I am an ardent follower of Stephen Hawking. He has had a profound influence on my growing love for Physics and the development of my atheistic views. He recently got an upgrade to his speech synthesizer technology that allows him to communicate. It was based on AI. In this context, he reiterated what he has opined all along on AI – that “the development of AI could eventually spell the end of the human race”.
If we look around us today, AI is starting to become all pervasive. Robocop is no longer just a science fiction movie from 1987. The police department in Dubai has shared plans to introduce a robotic police officer to the UAE workforce and said they intend to have robot cops serving up to 25% of their force by 2030. The first robot cop is all set to join their force this month. Needless to say that 25% of the police force will lose their jobs.
This vicious cycle has been set in motion and is now a global trend.
The world’s 10th largest employer, Foxconn, is a manufacturing partner for Apple, Google, and Amazon. Their initiatives in Robotic automation have resulted in robots taking over the role played by more than 60000 workers already. Walmart, who currently employ over 2.1 million employees, plans to replace their warehouse stock checkers with drones. In this case, the drones will be able to scan the stocks with a speed that far exceeds human capability. The impact on job loss, in this use case, is thus non-linear.
Citibank and the University of Oxford recently conducted a survey to assess the impact of AI and automation on job loss. The results are a cause for serious concern – the estimated job loss in the US is 47%, 35% in the UK, and a staggering 77% in China. Across the OECD countries, it is pegged at 57%.
We are just at the beginning of the AI revolution. In my view, this revolution will follow Moore’s law. As we make more advances in the field, the rapidity with which technical developments evolve will increase, the innovative ways in which they will be applied and the profoundness of their impact on job loss will grow exponentially. One of the undesirable consequences of the industrial revolution was the creation and rapid growth of the economic divide. With advances in technology, this divide has only deepened. Similarly, the development of nuclear fission had its fair share of negative consequences that we are all only too well aware of. AI and automation fall into the same category in terms of the impact that technology will have on human lives.
Those of us in IT are all too familiar with the concept of a governance model. If ever there was a need to have one in place, it is now and it is in the space of AI and automation. Like every other technical revolution we have seen in our history, this is at a stage where we don’t fully understand the impact of its development and applications. A strong central governing body needs to be constituted to oversee the technical developments, assess the economic impact of their applications and define a framework that controls and governs the adoption of use cases for commercial use. The absence of such a governance model, coupled with our haste to claim the first mover advantage in a disruptive world, we are likely to destroy the very fabric of our existence.
This blog is not intended to be a negative commentary on AI and automation. Being a technology enthusiast myself, nothing will thrill me more than to see Watson’s cognitive capabilities answer the ultimate question of correlation between the physical and metaphysical universe. While we wait to see if Watson or Stephen Hawking answer this question first, I do hope that we define more immediate strategies to leverage these wonderful technologies for the benefit of mankind.
Of course, let’s bear in mind that if Stephen Hawking is right, we may be too late already.