Artificial intelligence is on the rise. And rightly so. Because in many areas it has the potential to enrichen our lives and to make them safer and easier. Yet despite the euophoria, we should never forget the dangers of making ourselves redundant.
Human intelligence is the most powerful phenomenon in the known universe. Without it, there would be no sense or purpose to anything that happens. Human intelligence achieves things with conscious effort and creativity. No other phenomenon possesses this immense power: to bring new ideas to life, to plan and organise and give meaning to things, to build systems and civilisations, and to design the world according to a particular plan.
It was long thought that human intelligence and its underlying brain processes could not be replicated. However, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, this conviction has begun to unravel. While early AIs were limited to following precise instructions, modern machine algorithms and deep learning systems are getting closer to the essence of human intelligence: they are creative, they learn autonomously, they discover new insights, and they are taking on increasingly complex cognitive tasks.
Self-driving cars and automated public transport will drastically reduce road deaths. Production processes will become efficient like never before, thanks to systematic quality control. Image recognition algorithms will discover early-stage tumours. The capacity for early detection will revolutionise medicine. Real-time translation will make languages barriers a thing of the past. Virtual assistants will make our day-to-day tasks easier to manage. The list goes on and on. The euphoria surrounding artificial intelligence – and how it will improve our lives – is absolutely electrifying.
For businesses, AI opens up an entire universe of possibilities for new products and new business models. Because where human limitations begin to show is precisely where AI begins to shine. And our limitations are many. We need sleep. We’re prone to lapses in concentration and hostage to our irrational emotions. Our brain may be the ultimate masterpiece of evolution, but when it comes to processing and interpreting vast quantities of data, we very quickly reach the limit of our cognitive powers.
Artificial intelligence knows no biological limits. That is both its immense advantage and its major downside. If businesses hope to profit from the tremendous long-term opportunities of AI, they need to act fast.
The equation is simple: Artificial intelligence will continue to make humans redundant across a range of increasingly complex tasks. As a result, the human workforce will decline in economic value. If the development of AI stays on its current trajectory, this outcome is inevitable. No analyst or scientist seriously doubts that. Jobs will only exist in low-paying industries where it’s not yet worth the cost to automate, or in that increasingly defined market in which humans retain a cognitive advantage over machines. Hardly an optimistic prognosis.
The jobs under immediate threat from advances in AI are no longer only blue collar. It’s no secret that factory workers on production lines have already felt the effects of automation for quite some time. The new victims are now the well-paid white collar workers who populate the offices of this world. Accountants, data analysts, knowledge managers, bookkeepers. In short, the cognitive backbone of the economy. The question looms: Are humans making themselves permanently redundant?
The rise of AI will cause shockwaves, but managers and decision makers can take steps to absorb some of the consequences. They must invest heavily in internal programs for further education and training as well as implement systematic solutions quickly, with help from the education and social sectors. This is how to prepare large numbers of people for the new working reality. New and exciting jobs will also be created in the process. But these will only be a temporary solution.
Artificial intelligence will inevitably become smarter and more broadly useful than it is now. No matter how fast we create new job profiles, and how quickly training programs will take effect, the automation of work once carried out by humans will advance at a much faster rate. Eventually decision makers must ask themselves: how much more can our society bear? At what point is this no longer viable? When 20 percent of the workforce has been automated? 30 percent? 50? When do people become more important than increasing profit? How much societal damage is too much?
In economic terms, the equation is simple: the less people earn from their work, the lower their purchasing power and the harder it becomes for the economy to function. But it would be naive to rely on political solutions, such as the rapid rollout of a basic universal income.
Amidst the euphoria surrounding the rise of artificial intelligence, the reality cannot be ignored. Smart and humane businesses will distinguish themselves by acting fast to develop strategic guidelines and reaction plans. They will set themselves apart from those who prefer to close their eyes, only to be overwhelmed by the AI wave and left searching ever more desperately for the answers.