Will my future job be replaced by artificial intelligence?

Faith Clarke investigates which careers will be secure in an increasingly technological age
Commercial awareness
Business analysis

The fast-paced development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is at once opening some doors and closing others. As AI becomes more advanced an increasing number of tasks carried out by office workers today will be lost to automation, as those that require repetitive motions will be completed faster and more effectively by machines. This raises several questions: which jobs are safe and which are not? What jobs will arise as old ones are eliminated?  

It seems that humans are simultaneously for and against machines. On the one hand, the people who are helping to develop AI clearly trust in its potential, while those who have jobs that can be easily replaced by machines are surely going to feel threatened by such advancements. This paradoxical relationship between humans and machinery has existed since the Industrial Revolution. However, the difference between then and now is simply that in the twenty-first century AI strives to replace human brain power, rather than merely manpower.

At the rate technology is advancing, some jobs are cannibalising others. Black cab drivers are having their business consumed by Uber, and ultimately, Sat-Nav and location services. However, Anthony Levandowski, Uber’s vice president of engineering has revealed: “Self-driving is core to Uber’s mission.” It will soon be the Uber drivers who must surrender to technology, and while their jobs are safe for the meantime - their future hangs in the balance.

This is true of many low-skilled jobs that rely heavily on repetitive movements in well-known settings, such as jobs in the food industry, retail sector and manufacturing. However, while there are many jobs that automation can replace, there are many that it will be unable to replicate. Moreover, the advancement of AI and the technology industry means more jobs will arise in this sector.

So, what jobs will still be around, or will be created?

While many people perceive AI as a threat, there are numerous advantages that humans have over AI. In an article for Newsweek, Kevin Maney suggests that ‘successful people in the AI age will focus on work that takes advantage of unique human strengths, like social interaction, creative thinking, decision-making with complex inputs, empathy and questioning.’ That leaves a great deal of jobs that are very unlikely to be replaced by robots, as while AI can easily imitate physical movement, it has more difficulty dealing with uncertain situations that require the human traits mentioned above.

Jobs in healthcare, teaching and counselling, for example, are likely to remain safeguarded due to their requirements of traits such as empathy and compassion.  Jobs in law and politics will always require some sense of human discernment to sustain them – though we might argue that many politicians are already resembling robots when it comes to speech-making and debate! The same goes for journalists; while much of the profession relies on an impartial approach to current affairs, a robot would never be able to hold the powerful to account – a quality central to democracy and traditional press values.

Maney makes the point that while AI can predict what you want to see on your Facebook newsfeed based on what you’ve already liked, it cannot predict that you may like something entirely different. AI relies on data input to make its decisions – so it lacks innovation and spontaneity in this sense. In other words, only humans have the ability to be creative.

By ‘creative’ I am referring not only to careers in the arts – writing, photography and so forth, but also to any careers that require the need to think fast and think laterally. Jobs in the business sector will always be necessary – after all, they underpin the global economy. Quite simply, we need creative entrepreneurs to develop new products, we need people to market them, and we need people to sell them.

In terms of AI, we’ll require people to formulate the codes behind it, to supervise its progress, and of course, we need those who will engineer it in the first place. Therefore, software analysts and developers, computer engineers, algorithm specialists, mechanical and manufacturing engineers and maintenance technicians are just some of the jobs that will be held in high esteem in the near future.

So what degrees lead to such careers?

Most careers in AI require at least a bachelor’s degree in an area of maths, science, engineering or information technology, whereas most supervisor or managerial roles will require further study for a Masters or even a PhD. An analytical mind and the ability to problem-solve is paramount to a career in the AI industry. While technical skills to design, maintain and develop technology is integral, equally important is of course the ability to communicate with colleagues, and in many cases, businesses and the public.  

While the prospect of AI can be daunting to many, it is comforting to think of the ways in which it can enhance society; it will not so much replace humans as it will assist them in improving our world. It will quicken the rate of scientific research, which may ultimately save lives, and it will assist in astronomical pursuits that once seemed light years away. Most importantly, McKinsey & Company make the point that AI will free up ‘executive time to focus on the core competencies that no robot or algorithm can replace – as yet.’ The bottom line is, AI can only improve our industries – it cannot make them weaker.