Will Artificial Intelligence be the Terminator of jobs?

The era of Terminators is finally here. Robotics until recently was fiction, with the exception of use cases in organizations like NASA and institutes like MIT. The scenario is different now. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the buzzword getting echoed across industries – be it aviation, tourism, manufacturing, healthcare and retail. It’s the beginning of yet another industrial revolution, and apparently these changes are accompanied by the fear of job loss.

“Will robots take over human workers in the next decade?” This is the question being reverberated across many sectors. The recently concluded Dell EMC Forum 2017  in Bangalore explored whether humans and machines will have equal role in workspace of tomorrow. Most participants have consensus on the notion that machines will take over humans, and they highlighted the need to define a boundary for robots so they don’t cross the ethical boundaries in human lives.

AI has evolved from simple data analytics and machine automation to complex processing of information for use in business processes, sales, marketing and customer services. The custom applications like Siri, Tesla’s self-driving car, Cortana, are a few among those popular today.

AI is found effective in combating forgery and identity thefts, especially in financial transactions. This is done through intelligent algorithms that can analyze the data to identify the behaviour of the user in each transaction and trigger combative measures whenever needed.

Read: Facebook will soon let you type with your brain

Data analytics is the foundation of AI in many other applications.  In retail, for example, such algorithms help businesses identify the pattern of shopping, suggest products, and launch discount offers. In-house, the technology can be used to manage inventory and replenish the stock without the interference of a human being. AI has been popular among big e-commerce firms like Amazon, while it also being used among brick-and-mortar firms.

AI’s ability to build customer engagement will be probably the most significant and widely adopted attribute of this technology in the future. Apart from achieving increased customer engagement and retention, firms investing in such technologies also aim at cost reduction. AI technologies like Virtual Personal Assistants (VPAs) help these companies reduce the reliance on human assistants. VPAs today are in the initial state of evolution; over the course of time, they are expected to emerge as more natural and efficient.

Surveillance and security is a thriving area for AI. The proliferation of smartphones powered by high-speed broadband has brought revolution in personal and industrial surveillance. Applications ranging from asset/person tracking to smart homes and energy monitoring are being powered by artificial intelligence, further enhancing the efficiency and accuracy of these applications.

Annual cost savings from the adoption of artificial intelligence-powered chatbots in healthcare will be $3.6 billion by 2022 against an estimated $2.8 million in 2017. Juniper Research says this growth will average 320 percent per annum, as chatbots will drive improved customer experiences for patients. Over half of the annual savings realised by chatbots will be in Far East and China in 2022.

With AI ready to take over all industries, the question whether it will play villain in terms of employment is relevant. Decades ago when computers made their entry into conventional offices, people experienced the same fear. According to industry experts, the current fear about AI is more or less the same.

Yes, job cuts will be there. Since robots are going to replace multitudes of customer care executives, stock analysts, inventory boys, security personnel, and more, there will be significant reduction in jobs for these categories of workers. However, there is an interesting twist to this story. Accenture, for example, reveals automation has cost 17,000 people’s jobs, but the IT services giant has been able to reskill and reposition all those workers in a better position. Robotics eliminates lots of menial and repetitive jobs, which leave employees exhausted and bored. However, with the growth of Digial and support of robotics, companies like Accenture can achieve growth faster and reward its employees with better skills and opportunities.

However, it’s not good news for India, the hub of IT and BPO services. According to US-based research firm HfS Research, about 7 lakh low skilled workers in IT and BPO industry in India are likely to lose their jobs to automation and artificial intelligence by 2022. However, there could be some rise in the number of medium skilled jobs in the sector, from 900,000 to 1 million by 2022, while that of high skilled jobs could rise to 510,000 in 2022 from 320,000 in 2016, the firm says. This is in alignment with the global trend, wherein global IT/BPO jobs are expected to fall by 7.5 percent with major countries like India, the US and the UK being hit.

In June 2016, Forrester Research predicted that 16 percent of US jobs will be replaced, while the equivalent of 9 percent jobs will be created. Some of the emerging job opportunities will be for robot monitoring professionals, data scientists, automation specialists, and content curators.

While the fall in jobs may be a concern and eye-opener for governments, there is no denying that AI will create new opportunities for the next generation of professionals. Since AI is set to boost the digital capabilities to new level, more opportunities are likely to emerge across all sectors.

Rajani Baburajan

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