The debate on how to use AI for good is well under way at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos. The challenges global decision makers face as they strategise about the future are varied, but one factor that cannot be ignored is the urgency with which we need to propel our businesses and societies forward. At IPsoft, we create the technology that is driving change and see at first hand the fundamental shift that is taking place in every organisation that prepares to adopt AI. Our world is changing at an unprecedented speed and these pioneering businesses will need to work closer than ever with policy makers and other stakeholders.
The conversations taking place at the World Economic Forum are an important reminder that digital platforms have turned our global economy and workforces as we know it into an interconnected, Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven machine – one that changes the way we structure new jobs and human labor. In the last two decades, we have seen significant changes in how people and businesses connect through technology and IT. Estimates of the Internet’s contribution to GDP vary, but the general consensus shows that globally it is worth more than sectors such as education, agriculture and energy.
What does this mean for society today, and how will this impact next generations? And more specifically, how is Artificial Intelligence (AI) helping to pave an easier path to the future? In short, impending digital technology has huge implications for the very structure of the global economy, with the pros far outweighing the cons. The ‘Man vs. Machine’ debate is never far from the news agenda, but the next machine age is no longer the future – it is inarguably the present. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, the overarching and most imperative theme at Davos this year, is being driven by the automation and augmentation of knowledge-based work. By creating new ways to deploy virtual labor to automate knowledge-based tasks, we are restructuring the way that humans and machines live and work in tandem to create a better, stronger digital economy.
AI and automation is quickly being used to enhance human creativity through cognitive technology, enabling innovation across a broad range of industries and bringing with it three fundamental changes: new opportunities through infinite data, efficiencies through self-learning and the ability to bring machine interaction even closer to human interaction. In isolation, these are momentous changes as standalone topics, but we’re seeing them happening simultaneously. This means that the collective impact has and will create challenges that will need to be mitigated in advance.
One of the most prominent concerns around increased automation and the problems they may bring fall largely on the potential for the changing workforce and loss of jobs. Resistance to technological change shouldn’t come as a surprise. It is the same fear that has been symptomatic of major technology-driven economic disruptions throughout history. In hindsight, resistance to innovations like the Spinning Jenny now seem misguided, especially as it enabled the textile industry to grow and created new, better opportunities for workers and drove the economic impact at record speeds.
And this new era of AI is no different. It’s true that there will be imminent job losses, but it is more important to recognize the massive job creation that will guide our future workforce. There will be displacement of mundane and repetitive work, and valuable time will be freed up for creative roles higher up the value chain – jobs that are meant for and driven by people, not machines. Technology up-levels skills and innovation, but will only present vast opportunities for those who willingly engage and embrace this revolution.
The key factor of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the speed in which it can happen. The technology that is now at our fingertips allows businesses (and even entire sectors) to scale up in the blink of the eye – leading to disruptive start-ups, such as Uber and Airbnb, and ultimately changes the way we live in a fraction of the time previously thought possible.
Although the opportunities this presents should generate excitement rather than fear, the socio-economic impact cannot be ignored. We are moving into a world where the traditional way in which wealth is distributed will shift into unchartered territory, and it rests on key policy makers to ensure that existing arbitrary measurements are brought into this new machine age to reflect the needs of an increasingly automated society. Although the conversations taking place in Davos this week will spark a a global call-to-action, it is only the starting point of a much larger imperative in which industry leaders and technology pioneers must continue to create the right platforms and solutions that will drive success for all constituents in today’s digital economy.