Robots driven by advanced artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms are expected to take about 6 percent of American jobs by 2021. With such level of automation, many U.S. citizens will find themselves unemployed. Perhaps it might be the right time to reignite the debate about Universal Basic Income Policy Plan, which assures a certain sum of money in the bank accounts of all voters.
The incredible pace set by technology, especially in the AI field, has multiple companies contemplating replacing their human workers with robots. While these machines may be promoted as workers destined to make our lives easier, they have been gradually increasing unemployment among the lower and middle-income groups. According to a new report from market research company Forrester, robots and AI-driven software could take away about 6 percent of jobs from U.S. citizens within the next five years. If you consider the sheer advancement AI as a technology has made, the number and the possibility are certainly alarming.
Figures from August of 2016 indicate there are 125.89 million U.S. citizens who are employed full-time. If the projections are to be believed, about 7.6 million Americans will be unemployed by 2021. With so many jobs disappearing, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and other presidential hopefuls could reconsider the Universal Basic Income Policy Plan. While many experts had dismissed the concept earlier, it could be a dire necessity in the near future.
Last year saw the rise of artificial intelligence as a technology affecting commercial products. Google introduced RankBrain, a neural network AI capable of interpreting long search queries using natural language conventions. Other AI advances were made in diverse fields, from medicine to business database processing. So reliable is today’s AI that the news media industry willingly began experimenting with a few virtual writers. According to IBM, AI will be synergistic to humans and will allow us to focus on matters of greater importance.
“The goal of cognitive computing is to illuminate aspects of our world that were previously invisible — patterns and insight in unstructured data, in particular —allowing us to make more informed decisions about more consequential matters. The true potential of the Cognitive Era will be realized by combining the data analytics and statistical reasoning of machines with uniquely human qualities, such as self-directed goals, common sense and ethical values.”
While this may sound helpful, reality for a lot of Americans with middle-level skills is about to get very grim, pointed out Adam Keiper, the editor of the New Atlantis and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington.
“Middle-skilled jobs are the ones most affected by automation. In the service sectors — like restaurant wait staff, hotel personnel, and certain kinds of medical professionals. And 25 percent of the jobs that exist today won’t exist in the next 20 to 25 to 30 years. To put it into context, that is about the unemployment rate of the Great Depression.”
Digital assistants like Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and a few other companies are already reducing the need for interacting with an actual human. Their AI is gradually offering a human-like interactive experience. Chatbots are increasingly fielding and solving customer complaints and inquiries, while autonomous vehicles are already on America’s roads.
Meanwhile, not just large-scale manufacturing units, but even the fast-food industry is embracing the AI-driven robots. Many chains are centralizing and automating their ordering and payment systems.
The justifications are aplenty. An AI robot is never late or absent. It is polite and courteous no matter how rude or unruly the customer. The robot never gets riled up or frustrated. An AI robot will never ask for vacation time or sue the employer for any accidents at the workplace. American companies can be assured their robot workers will never get involved in any age, sex, or race discrimination case.
Realistically, it will be the customer care executives, factory/warehouse staff, drivers, and workers at fast-food outlets who face unemployment in the next few years. However, the automation won’t stop there, predicts Forrester’s report. Virtual assistants could soon make important decisions for their human masters.
While AI may take away some American jobs, the report assures automated systems will create several new career opportunities for those who are willing to become a qualified technician or software expert. After all, humans will always be needed to build, maintain, teach, and tweak the systems as human society evolves and poses several new challenges.
[Featured Image by Gerard Julien/Getty Images]