2019 and beyond...what to expect from artificial intelligence

BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Staff reporter
hendrickss@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, December 30, 2018

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“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before”

— Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman, World Economic Forum

As the world embarks on 2019, studies published this year by the World Economic Forum and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) predict that global adaptation of advanced technology will create major shifts in the labour market as soon as 2022.

In fact, this year, IDB issued a news release pointing to a 2018 study on artificial intelligence (AI), urging Latin American and Caribbean governments to anticipate the consequences of AI on the job market.

As it turns out, the newest turn in human evolution has birthed a collective function of humans and machines operating in the physical and virtual world, and with it, a host of concerns for humans who will have to compete with smart technology.

The study, done by the Institute for the Integration of Latin America and the Caribbean (INTAL), predicts that AI could boost economies in Latin America and the Caribbean, while simultaneously offsetting job losses.

It emerged that between 10 and 65 per cent of the region's work force was predicted to be at risk of losing their jobs. In Latin America, it was estimated that between 36 and 43 per cent of jobs could be lost due to artificial intelligence, while countries like Jamaica with lower gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and greater inequality were shown to be at a greater risk of suffering job losses.

In a recent article published in this newspaper, former prime minister of Jamaica, Bruce Golding hinted at the soon-coming shifts that are expected to pose several challenges for countries like Jamaica.

In his address to graduating students from Ardenne High School, Golding spoke about the need for more funding in science and technology fields “as the world moves toward the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, defined by the World Economic forum as 'a fusion of technologies that are blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres, or a collective of cyber-physical systems'.

In the article, Golding was reported as saying: “We have to start nudging, guiding our frame of education to do two things: To recognise human resource needs that Jamaica's development has, but also to understand that we can't prepare students only for manning a gas station. You have to prepare them for the challenges of this new world”.

The Future of Jobs 2018 Study published by the World Economic Forum indicated that machines programmed for pattern recognition and the ability to function without humans is in the making of this new world.

A key finding of the study identified AI — among other technological advances in automation and robotics — as one of the major drivers of change as it gives rise to new occupations. This will require significant changes in the kind skills needed to do most jobs while making other jobs redundant.

According to the study, by 2022, 62 per cent of organisations' information, data processing and information search and transmission tasks will be performed by machines compared to 46 per cent today.

Already, some jobs are predicted to become redundant, including journalism. According to the study, others include accountants, editors, customer service representatives, retail managers, and administrative assistants.

And that is really just the tip of the iceberg. Drivers, lawyers, construction workers, medics, financial analysts, even their jobs are on the chopping block, according to the now seminal study, The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?.

Even those tasks which remain overwhelmingly human will become automated. These include communicating and interacting, coordinating, managing, as well as reasoning and decision-making skills.

From self-driving cars, to AI automated agents that can diagnose illnesses using image recognition with 96 per cent accuracy rate, the capabilities of artificial intelligence range from convenient to simply bizarre.

Meanwhile, other jobs will be supplanted. An estimated 75 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines, while 133 million new roles may emerge, according to the Future of Work study.

While the estimates represent a subset of employment globally, it was noted that they are useful in highlighting the adaptation strategies needed to facilitate shifts in the new world of work.

Amid the worrying prospects, however, AI and other advanced technology are expected to create new jobs, boost productivity, and build better economies.

A key impact of technological change highlighted in the IDB study was the fast transformation of occupations and new skill requirements.

Golding, in his address, hinted further at this fact.

“Students have to be prepared to be flexible. They have to prepare to say, all right, I start out doing this, but since the technology has shifted, since the revolution has scrambled up everything, I now must be able to shift to something else. That is going to require something special.”

Director of INTAL Gustavo Belize in the news release indicated what response is needed to the coming changes: “To better manage the transition for displaced workers, governments must put in place policies and strategic plans that are designed for artificial intelligence.”

The study also showed that digital technology will be crucial in how industries transform globally. Luckily, Jamaica was ranked among the top 50 digital nations in 2017 by the Thalons services globalisation index.

However, given regional factors of low GDP, high percentages of unskilled labour, and high poverty rates, another IDB study on the future of work in the region, recommended that “countries implement policies for productive development, innovation and human talent”.

To reiterate his point, Golding gave this quote by Alvin Toffler: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but rather will be those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”.

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