AI and Jobs: Which Skills are at Risk?
WIRED guest editor President Barack Obama says society will have to re-evaluate the skills it values economically when AI becomes mainstream.
Artificial intelligence can be awe-inspiring and fascinating, but for some, the idea that machines can be intelligent enough to mimic human actions causes more worry than wonder.
While computer scientists work to advance AI, leaders must also strive to help society understand how computers can reduce human work without entirely replacing people in the workforce. And that is going to require a re-assessment of the skills the economy values most, according to WIRED guest editor President Barack Obama.
Obama recently discussed with editor in chief Scott Dadich and MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito how artificial intelligence might up-end economies and how societies can adapt. WIRED recently shared a video series with Obama.
AI is happening across research labs and in practice today, but Obama prefers the term extended intelligence when discussing how computers can benefit society without causing further wage discrepancies.
“For us to be successful in these areas, we really have to think through the economic implications,” Obama said. “Because more people aren’t spending a lot of time worrying about singularity. They are worrying about is my job going to be replaced by a machine.”
But the jobs that AI could potentially impact the most aren’t always the ones people think of first, MIT’s Ito said. Lower-level service jobs come to mind, but consider the intelligence needed in diagnostics and then consider if AI could dole out prescribed meds as well as a human pharmacist could, Ito suggested.
“There are high-level jobs, maybe some categories of lawyers or auditors, that could be displaced with things that involve computers,” Ito explained. “There are a lot of services, the arts that aren’t well-suited for computers.”
Ito went on to point out that academia; teaching is a job that isn’t considered valued work by perhaps those working on Wall Street because it traditionally doesn’t pay well. But cultural pursuits such as the arts aren’t areas in which computers historically perform well.
That means the rise of the machines, to so speak, will require society to look again at what it values and how it compensates for those skills that cannot be easily duplicated and displaced by computers. For instance, teachers and caretakers are also in a position that perhaps doesn’t pay well, but cannot be easily replaced by a computer.
“We underpay teachers despite the fact that it is a really hard job that is really hard for a computer to do well, to replace a good teacher,” Obama said. “It will require us to reexamine what we value, what we are collectively willing to pay for. All that things that are incredibly valuable to us but right now don’t rank high on the totem poll; that is the conversation we need to have. It’s going to require a new way of thinking.”