Is AI coming for your job?

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As someone who has been working in various forms of AI off and on since the ’80s, I have heard all sorts of dire predictions of what will happen to us feeble humans when AI finally arrives. Skynet might be the stuff of fiction, but it’s the kind of scary idea that toys with our imaginations. When we aren’t worried that the machines will make the human race extinct, we worry that it will take our jobs away.

That’s probably the prognostication that you hear the most–AI is coming for your job. We will all be unemployed. Sometimes you also hear a competing, sunnier prediction–that AI will perform our mundane tasks and provide humans with a life of leisure. What most people realize is that these are actually the same prediction. AI will do the work and humans will not be working. It’s basically a personality test as to whether you think that is a good thing or not.

But either of those predictions fails to jive with how technology has been incorporated into our history.

For example, in 1790, 90% of US workers were farmers. In 1990, less than 3% were farmers. But somehow there wasn’t 87% unemployment. And that doesn’t even factor in the huge increase of women added to the job-holding population. Yes, a smaller segment of workers were farmers, but they found other things to do.

Conversely, it was predicted in the early part of this century that if growth in telephone calling continued (it did) that every woman in America would need to become a phone operator. Now, leaving aside the sexist notion that only women could be phone operators, it left out the possibility that technology might render the job unimportant.

So, we have a checkered history of predicting the effects of technology. Given the predictions around AI, I expect that to continue. Those frightened about what AI will do to our society are more optimistic about its abilities than I am, while those that are writing it off as a fad are overly pessimistic. AI will be one of the transformative technologies of the next decade, but it will be alongside many other technologies that transform our world. One of the AI startups that I work with, SoloSegment, jokes that every startup is pitching investors with their VR 5G Blockchain AI technology, but it makes the point that the real winners will be those that execute, not those that bloviate.

The questions is, “What are you doing?” Are you sitting on the sidelines wringing your hands or are you getting in the game? The rest of the players are not waiting for you.

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