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The artificial Intelligence wave is upon us. We better be prepared

The common citizen is concerned about AI taking away their jobs. This calls for broader thinking, including the evolution of industry protocols, while making sure that the public is ready for these futuristic advancements

opinion Updated: Aug 16, 2017 09:46 IST
artificial Intelligence,AI,Elon Musk
Geoffrey Irving and Dario Amodei show an autonomous system that has taught itself to play video games, at OpenAI in San Francisco, July 10, 2017. (NYT)

The AI (artificial intelligence) revolution is well and truly upon us, and we are at a significant watershed moment in our lives where AI could become the new electricity – pervasive and touching every aspect of our life. While many industries including healthcare, education, retail and banks have already started adopting AI in key business aspects, there are also new business models which are predicated on AI.

With the global market of AI expected to grow at 36% annually, reaching a valuation of $3 trillion by 2025 from $126 bn in 2015, new age disruption is not only redefining the way traditional businesses are run, but is also unfolding as a new ‘factor of production’.

However, the fear of what might happen once AI evolves into artificial general intelligence – which can perform any intellectual task that a human can do – has now taken centre stage with the ongoing debate between two tech titans – Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. Similarly, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates had also voiced his views that in a few years, AI would have evolved enough to warrant wide attention, while Facebook has ended up shutting down one of its AI projects as chatbots had developed their own language (unintelligible to humans) to communicate.

Beyond this, the common citizen wants to know if she should be worried about AI taking away her job? This calls for broader thinking, including the evolution of industry protocols, while making sure that the public is ready for these futuristic advancements.

Will AI move my cheese?

The emergence of AI has seen criticism because of the probability that it could replace human jobs by automation. However, as we see the shift of AI from R&D stage to various real-life business prototypes, it seems evident that goal of most AI applications is to augment human abilities through hybrid business models.

According to McKinsey, AI would raise global labour productivity by 0.8% to 1.4% a year between now and 2065. I believe that both policy makers and corporates must recognise AI’s potential to empower the workforce and invest in creating training programmes/workshops to help the labour force adapt to these newer models.

For instance, Ocado, the UK online supermarket has embedded robotics at the core of warehouse management. Robots steer thousands of product-filled bins to human packers just in time to fill shopping bags which are then sent to delivery vans whose drivers use AI applications to pick the best route based on traffic conditions and weather.

Technology will create more new jobs than it eliminates

We must learn from the history of the industrial and technological revolutions over the last 500 years that jobs eliminated in one sector have been replaced by newer jobs requiring refreshed skill-sets. As a corollary, countries such as Japan, Korea or Germany, which have the highest levels of automation, should have seen large scale unemployment over the past 4-5 decades. This is not necessarily the case.

Having said that, in the near future, every routine operational task is certainly likely to become digitised and AI could be running the back-office of most businesses. Over the next few decades, many middle skill jobs are also likely to be eliminated. However, AI is unlikely to replace jobs which require human to human interaction. Consequently, fundamental human thinking skills such as entrepreneurship, strategic thinking, social leadership, connected salesmanship, philosophy, and empathy, among others, would be in even greater demand.

Further, till a point of singularity is reached, AI will not be able to service or program on its own leading to new, high-skilled jobs for technicians and computing experts.

Let’s be prepared

Globally, policymakers and corporations will need to significantly revamp the education system to address technology gaps.

In India, this represents an enormous opportunity for policymakers to make better informed decisions, tackle some of the toughest socio-economic challenges, and address the woeful shortage of qualified doctors, teachers etc.

We need to immediately plan for state and nation-wide university hubs, and MOOCs (massive open online courses) built on the framework of DICE (design, innovation, creativity led entrepreneurship). Curricula should be focussed on developing basic skills in STEM (science, technology , engineering and mathematics) fields, coupled with a new emphasis on creativity, critical and strategic thinking. Adaptive and individualised learning systems need to be established to help students at different levels work collaboratively amongst themselves as well as with AI in the classroom.

The National Skills Development Corporation will need to evolve into ‘National Future Skills Development’, as we as a civil society prepare to bring the future into the present!

Rana Kapoor is MD and CEO, YES Bank; and Chairman, YES Global Institute

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Aug 16, 2017 09:46 IST