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Artificial Intelligence and Jobs

Artificial Intelligence or AI has transformed the world in many ways. In the past few years, we have seen this technology being adopted for many different uses. While AI is extremely fascinating and helpful, many tech-leaders of today are not very optimistic about it. Tesla's CEO, Elon Musk said that AI poses a greater threat to the world than nuclear weapons {1}.
Image result for artificial intelligence

A topic that is widely debated on these days is whether AI will create more jobs than it kills. Undoubtedly, AI is going to kill jobs. However, various reports say that by 2020, AI is going to actually create more jobs than that it will kill {2}. Some AI fans and economists agree with this statement. But, there is still a large group of people who do not believe in it. Some argue that only employees who are skilled and educated will be benefited. Unskilled labourers will be left without a job.

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Elon Musk
Let us consider computers. In the 1960s, John F. Kennedy said that the use of computers in offices is going to result in the end of jobs for many. He also argued that robots in factories are going to leave unskilled and semi-skilled laborers without jobs. However, in the past technology has always resulted in job creation. Computers are used by almost everyone in almost every field. A salon uses computers to manage appointments of their clients, companies use it for communication, data processing and storage, creation of products and selling their product as well. There is a person employed to manage the computer. Probably in the 1960s, computers were not used by everyone. However, by the 2000s, everyone had their own computer. Most offices have an entire division (IT department) that deals with computers and helping employees of that company with any issue. Technology has always resulted in the loss of a few jobs. But, around the jobs that are lost, many more are created. By 2020, 1.8 million jobs may be lost due to AI, but 2.3 million are to be created (3).

Consider the weaving industry. During the Industrial Revolution, a lot of the processes were automated and it resulted in the increase in production capacity and reduction of errors, i.e. money lost. In an hour, production was increased by a factor of 50. 98% of the job was automated. However, there was still a need for employment of people. They needed labour to check if the machines were running and address any issue around the weaving process. Between 1830 and 1900, the number of jobs quadrupled due to the increase in demand of cloth due to the reduced prices of cloth as a result of automation and greater efficiency. As trade increased, more jobs were created.
A more recent example would be that of ATMs that was predicted to cause unemployment in the banking sector especially for bank tellers. However, the reduced cost of running a bank resulted in banks opening more branches to cater to customers. This naturally lead to an increase in employment (4).

At the end of the day, AI is technology. Technology has always proven to create jobs in excess of the number it has destroyed. From the economic point of view, it not only creates jobs but also reduces expenditure of companies and people. The money saved can be reinvested to create more jobs indirectly and directly. Unskilled labourers might not find a job very easily. But the reduction in the cost of many commodities might benefit them in unimaginable ways. 20-30 years ago, Personal Computers were luxury items owned either by rich individuals or companies. Even upto 10 years ago, a smart phone was a device not affordable to all. Today the dynamics have changed. PCs have almost disappeared and almost everyone owns a laptop(s) of their own. A smart phone has become a necessity and affordable. This is due to the reduction in prices of these goods brought about by automation and technology. Owning a device today has benefits such as online education, networking, knowledge sharing and more. An unskilled labourer can get certified online or even do an online course to curate new skills that will help them secure a job. Unskiled labourer's children who often only have access to appallingly low standards of education have a platform to learn online to better understand topics.

A certain of number of people are going to lose jobs that may not be easily replaceable. In the short term, many may find themselves unemployed. But this is okay. Not everyone can always be benefited. The effects of AI on the world will be seen in the long run. The world has changed in ways that most thought were not possible. People could not embrace technology early on. Nowadays, without technology, literally nothing is possible. To survive in this world we should be able to adapt to change. In our world only one thing is constant - change. Without adapting to the ever changing world in which we need to constantly renew our skills and do better, the losers are going to be those who are dead set on not learning anything new and not recognizing the benefits that outweigh the negatives.
With respect to change, consider the role of umpires in cricket. 50 years, the umpire's decision was final. Lately, a lot of decisions are being taken by technology. A program can determine whether the ball might have gone on to hit the stumps when it is blocked by the batsman (LBW). A snicko meter can tell us whether or not the ball grazed past the bat before being caught behind. However, we still have two umpires on the field (just as before) incase of a situation in which the decision cannot be entirely guaranteed by technology (Umpire's Call). Moreover, now there is an additional job that has been created for the 'third umpire' who sits off the field to review any decision using technology.
Umpires could have protested the introduction of technology saying that their jobs are at threat. However, they managed to learn new skills such as using the software provided to them to judge with greater precision that results in a victory to the team who deserves it, rather than who were lucky due to faulty umpiring.

I conclude by saying that AI will probably have a short term effect on employment. In the long term, it is unarguably going to create more jobs. While it is not ideal for those unskilled people who lose their jobs, sometimes we must sacrifice for the greater good. The rich pay higher taxes to enjoy almost the same civic facilities (if not less) provided by the Government as compared to someone who does not pay taxes and this is a sacrifice on the rich person's part. It is sad that the unskilled group will be the biggest short term losers, but regulatory frameworks on AI and technology like that of India's will be pitiful and put us on a road where we will again be 5-10 years behind other countries due to useless policies of our Government. Wake up!

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