Most Americans Think AI Isn’t a Threat to Their Jobs

March 19, 2018 - 5 minutes read

AI app developer, artificial intelligence app development

Do you think artificial intelligence (AI) could do your job? It’s a strange question that has turned from a hypothetical imagination exercise to an uneasy topic that most people don’t feel like dealing with right now.

As AI development advances, this question becomes a more important issue to tackle before it balloons into a bigger problem. But according to most Americans, this isn’t really a problem they have to worry about.

Whose Problem Is It?

Let me correct the last statement: Americans do think AI is a substantial problem, just not theirs particularly. According to a new survey from management consulting firm Gallup, 73 percent of US adults do think AI will “eliminate more jobs than it creates,” but only around 23 percent of the participants were actually worried that automation would affect their own jobs. The survey, which had 3,000 participants, also found that for those with less than a four-year college degree, this percentage increased to 28, while only 15 percent of those with at least a bachelor’s degree were worried.

These numbers are actually nothing new. Last year, a similar survey by Quartz resulted in about 90 percent of participants believing that automation would take half of all jobs in the next five years, but 91 percent of the same respondents believed their jobs were safe. A 2016 survey by Pew Research Center found that 65 percent of participants believed that AI would do much of the work currently completed by humans in 50 years. But 80 percent of these respondents thought their own jobs would still exist.

Nothing to Go Off Of

So, what’s exactly going on here? Is this just a perfect example of optimism bias? Short-sightedness? Well, before you go comparing humans to ostriches who stick their heads in the sand to avoid threats, it’s important to know that some part of this may actually be the experts’ fault.

When it comes to AI, robotics, and automation, the experts’ estimates are just as wide-ranging as the survey opinions. Pull up a few articles on this subject right now, and it’s not uncommon for some predictions to claim that 1 billion jobs will be gone by 2022. Others will say that 800 million will be lost by 2030. To make matters more complex, defining what AI actually is and when a job is taken also wildly varies from report to report.

While each factor makes this whole conundrum more convoluted, there is a simple explanation for all of the confusion: we’ve never encountered anything like this before. Historically, disruptive technologies have actually produced a net gain in the number of jobs. But AI is a completely different animal; while every disruptive technology before it has for the most part been quantitative in effect, AI represents an increase in qualitative intelligence that we’ve never dealt with before.

Is the Age of AI Already Here?

While this all sounds scary, the good news is that it appears AI is already here. Gallup’s survey also found that 85 percent of Americans already regularly use some feature of AI. Whether it’s a navigation app like Waze, a streaming service like Netflix, or a smart home device like Amazon Echo, it would seem that AI has expanded outside of San Francisco development companies and already embedded itself in our modern lives. Most people would agree that these uses are benign at worst and offer some unique advantages at best. Of course, like mentioned before, some people would also say that this doesn’t fall into the category of “AI” according to their definitions.

Regardless of where your opinion lies on the matter, there is one objective truth to take away from all of this: AI’s role in our society should be looked at as a subtle spectrum, not a discrete impact that will be felt like a punch. Sure, some uses of AI over the next few years will be completely obvious when you first see them, but for each of these, there will be a dozen other subtle ways that AI snuck into your life and improved it.

For now, our only option is to keep calm and carry on. Fearing the future never does anyone any good; it’s much more beneficial to embrace it. And like AI, being aware of what’s going on doesn’t hurt, either.

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