Special Report: Artificial intelligence apps come of age
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As artificial intelligence software has grown in prominence in recent months, one fear has flowed beneath the surface of many discussions: What will the technology's effect be on jobs?
In some cases, AI applications are being designed to automate specific jobs, like that of customer service agents. More broadly, some commentators have suggested the technology could become general enough to perform most tasks currently being performed by workers, whether blue collar or white collar.
But Matt Gould, founder and chief strategy officer at Arria NLG, a software company that uses a flavor of AI to produce business reports in natural language, says we have nothing to fear from the coming artificially intelligent future. In this interview, he explains why workers stand to gain far more than they may lose as more and more enterprises adopt AI applications.
What is the impact of artificial intelligence software on jobs going to be?
Matt Gould: The same that has happened with every automation technology since the wheel or the loom or the word processor: People get freed up to do more creative things and they love it. It creates more opportunities. We're not seeing automation taking jobs; we're seeing it changing jobs, and usually changing them for the better. There's a tipping point coming where, with AI, we're going to see a great emancipation. It's got to be managed well, but it's not going to be one of those emancipations of the workforce that destroys communities or erodes people's lives like the automation of vehicle production lines. What we're talking about for the first time is automation of white collar work, and it's going to have a positive effect. It's not something to be feared; it's something to be welcomed.
As artificial intelligence applications become more common, are workers going to need to acquire new skills to work with these tools?
Gould: I think that's kind of like generals fighting the last war. People think something's going to happen because they've seen it before; the automation of agriculture, the automation of production lines which put some people out of work. But the key difference here is we're not talking about automating a specific set of skills; we're automating expertise and removing the drudge part of it. It's like saying word processors put stenographers out of work. Maybe there was a little bit of that, but the benefits to so many people at every level of society from being able to quickly and efficiently generate documents and writing and share it in real time was huge.
So you have an optimistic take on how this is going to play out in the future, but many people are more pessimistic. What would your message be to people who are more pessimistic about artificial intelligence software?
Gould: It's always happened; it's nothing new. It's always happened in the arc of history that these innovations and technology changes have swept through and overall it's been a net benefit. And of all the changes that have happened historically this has got the potential to be the most benign and positive. There will be stresses on particular businesses. You go and talk to the people who used to work at Yellow Pages and were sales people and now it's all about Google. I'm sure there are points of pain there, but then most of them will have found other positive things and overall we wouldn't prefer to not have Google now. I'm not saying there won't be difficulties and people are right to be aware of that change and to know that it's coming, but also know that this is overall a positive change. Way more jobs are going to be created, and the jobs are just going to get more interesting.
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