AI Will Create More Jobs Than It Takes

July 13, 2020 - 8 minutes read

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In recent years, the development of artificial intelligence (AI) has advanced rapidly; nearly every week, we encounter a newsworthy breakthrough with the technology. But it wasn’t so long ago that computers couldn’t outperform people in gameplay, speech translation, medical diagnosis, and various other activities.

Today, this is no longer the case. AI’s capabilities have transcended those of humans in myriad ways. Consequently, this has sparked a debate about how the smart technology will impact employment. Many people fear that AI will replace workers in several industries and leave them unable to compete with the unparalleled efficiency of these systems.

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At a time when US unemployment is expected to reach its highest level since the Great Depression, it’s understandable that these concerns are unsettling. But they are unfounded. In fact, there’s more evidence supporting the contrary — that AI will create more jobs than it takes.

Historically, New Tech Doesn’t Equal More Unemployment

When envisioning the impact of new technology, it’s much easier to see how it will disrupt existing jobs rather than predict what new roles it will enable. This is why you see more articles about AI-fueled unemployment than job creation. But it’s crucial we remember one fact: revolutionary technological advancements are nothing new.

For two and a half centuries, technology has relentlessly progressed nonstop. In this time, we’ve seen the introduction of game-changers such as steam power and electricity. But US unemployment hovered between 5 to 10% for almost all those years.

Let’s look at a more recent example of radical new technology to put this in perspective. Roughly 27 years ago, the web browser Mosaic was released. Not long after, the Internet gained traction and popularity. If we rewound time, what would your honest predictions for this technology be?

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Connecting billions of computers to a massive network, whether they’re in New York or San Francisco, is hard to fathom. Perhaps you would have predicted that the advent of email would lead to fewer letters being mailed. Or maybe the web’s instant access would lead to fewer newspapers being bought and read. If you were particularly pessimistic, you may have even guessed that the Internet would change how we shop and could potentially harm the businesses of travel agents and stockbrokers.

All of the possibilities above would lead to one result: immense job loss. But what really occurred is more nuanced than that. Thousands of new businesses were born. Numerous new careers (e.g., online marketer, data scientist, web developer) became possible. And the cost to start a worldwide-reaching company and communicate with customers plunged.

Yes, we started sending fewer letters and buying fewer newspapers. But altogether, the impact of the Internet adds up to a net-positive value worth trillions of dollars.

Smarter Technology = More Opportunities

With AI, we hear the same refrains of imminent job loss that we encountered in the early days of the Internet. So let’s examine another technology that made human replacement look inevitable. Consider automated telling machines (ATMs).

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When ATMs arrived, many people swore that the days of human bank tellers were numbered. Yet, we find a stark contrast to this prediction today — there are actually more human tellers today! Since ATMs drastically lowered the cost of operating branch locations, banks opened more of them than ever before. In turn, this led to the hiring of more tellers.

In a similar manner, AI will create millions of jobs. This is difficult to grasp, so let’s look at a niche that AI is “taking over”: language translation. Human translator demand is actually skyrocketing, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because the cost of basic translation has plummeted, the cost of doing business overseas has also fallen. This has created more work for human translators; AI can take care of simple tasks, but people are still required for more complex translations.

If this example wasn’t convincing enough, the US BLS actually forecasts faster-than-average job growth in many roles that the public expects AI to negatively impact: technical writers, accountants, dietitians, MRI operators, forensic scientists, financial specialists, and customer service representatives name just a few. These jobs won’t fall to the wayside due to AI; they’ll flourish.

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But as we’ve hinted at, the real positive impact of AI will come from places our imaginations cannot comprehend yet.

Instead of Job Loss, Expect Different Responsibilities

“Technology will cause 47% of jobs to be lost.” You may remember such headlines making the rounds 7 years ago. The finding came from a report by Michael Osborne and Carl Frey. But the media was quick to misconstrue and distort the meaning behind the figure.

Osborne and Frey didn’t mean that 47% of job roles will disintegrate due to AI and machine learning. Rather, what they said was some responsibilities of that 47% of jobs would change due to automation.

In their report, the authors rank occupations according to their “probability of computerization.” Pharmacy aides, space scientists, and social science research assistants all received a 65% or higher probability. Does this mean these roles will evaporate into thin air? No. Social science researchers will still need assistants. They’ll just be fulfilling different responsibilities since much of what they do today will be automated.

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But now you may be wondering, “What about the skills gap?” Will AI eliminate low-skilled work and leave only high-skilled opportunities on the table? Well, it’s more complex than that. In fact, a more appropriate question would be if most people can do a job that’s a bit more complicated than what they do today. This is exactly what happened during the industrial revolution.

AI won’t cause a quantum leap in the skills gap. It’s much more likely it will bring about small, iterative changes.

A Brighter, Smarter Future Awaits All of Us

If there’s one thing humans excel at, it’s adaptability. The Internet changed the world. Before this, we had electricity do the same thing, and prior to that, steam power and the assembly line revolutionized our lives. Each of these technologies improved our lives and led to more jobs and raised wages. Nobody can make a reasonable argument that we’d be better off without them.

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AI will be bigger than all of these technologies. In fact, it’s probably true that it will be bigger than anything before it. Fortunately, there isn’t a fixed number of jobs that automation will siphon from. As long as human innovation and ingenuity exist, radical new technologies will always mean more opportunities. And we don’t see those qualities fading away anytime soon.

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