The rise of artificial intelligence is putting jobs at risk and many industries are hollowing out, but just how much this fourth industrial revolution will impact our future depends on what we allow it to do. According to futurist Anders Sorman-Nilsson, there’s an upside to letting the machine lead the way.
AI has enormous potential for society; it’s a huge plus for mundane and repetitive tasks and it’s where machines can do the job without growing tired where human beings might. “Humans repeat mistakes time and again while machines just get the job done,” says Sorman-Nilsson.
AI has been able to master skills that many blue-collar workers are required to do, in turn putting their jobs at risk, but the growth in AI programs has also put white-collar jobs under the spotlight. Everyone from law firms to the medical field is introducing AI with a skillset that’s eliminating human need—to a point.
In 2016, global law firm Allen & Overy launched MarginMatrix to help banks deal with new regulatory requirements in the United States. Known as a digital derivatives compliance system, it automates the process of drafting tailored documents.
“MarginMatrix has been able to reduce the amount of human hours it takes to draft a contract from three hours to just three minutes,” says Sorman-Nilsson. “If you’re the client paying your lawyer in six-minute increments, you might be open to testing the AI version of the contract. Contracts essentially are equation- based. They’re very mathematical, logical, and AI can master this. It means humans can be freed up to do other things rather than the lengthy process it takes to write contracts.”
The biggest bank in the United States—JP Morgan Chase—is another example of how AI has transformed the banking world. With the help of an AI program called Contract Intelligence (COIN), the firm has been able to reduce the number of errors made by staff when sorting through loan agreements and contracts.
Research shows that where staff spent more than 360,000 hours a week wading through mundane tasks of interpreting loan agreements, the AI technology did it in just seconds. A decrease in servicing mistakes translated into 12,000 new wholesale contracts in 2017.
“This is another example of a large corporation moving toward AI-powered assistance,” says Sorman-Nilsson. "It’s an exciting time for AI. It makes us question how much of our day do we spend doing brainless stuff like data entry and punching data into spreadsheets. Our left brain is mathematical, logical and sequential and the right brain tends to be more innovative, humanistic and creative. If we think of AI and the types of skills it can master, it’s leaning to a left brain-style of thinking. Years ago you would have taken a calculator to a Year 12 class, now you can Google and type in an equation and it will solve it for you courtesy of machine learning.”
Sorman-Nilsson says that instead of being fearful of AI, we should modify our skillset to allow us to work with it in the future. He says that while many parents today encourage their kids to become lawyers, doctors and accountants, they should instead be looking at university places where creative thinkers are empowered. AI can conquer the arduous tasks, but it can never take over our creative capacity entirely—well, not just yet.
Sorman-Nilsson says AI can reproduce an image of the Mona Lisa, but is less able to create an original masterpiece—hence his argument that creative roles will be in demand in decades to come.
“Through image recognition AI might be able to reproduce the Mona Lisa well, but if you told the AI to create something truly masterful and creative, humans can still excel at that type of thinking and skill,” he says.
Surgeons are also feeling the pinch with AI technology already impacting operating rooms. Take the da Vinci surgical system as an example. It’s an AI- enabled robot that can assist in microsurgical procedures to help reduce surgeon variations that could affect patient recovery.
Following the successful outcome of AI-assisted surgery in the United States in 2017, experts said they expect to see more robot-aided procedures like da Vinci systems in the next few years. While medicine is increasingly looking at AI, and human skills are being augmented by artificial skills, the da Vinci robotic surgeon is a sign of what’s to come.
“The robot eliminates two surgeons and only requires one doctor driving it. It has four arms and as it’s proving to be a theatre success, will impact the demand for doctors in the future,” says Sorman-Nilsson.
According to British entrepreneur, activist and head of applied AI at DeepMind, Mustafa Suleyman, similar advances are happening across many medical areas. “Deep-learning algorithms have identified more malignant melanomas and misidentified fewer false positives than human analysts. Another machine-learning study of breast cancer diagnosis showed the potential to reduce unnecessary surgeries by 30 percent,” he told The Economist.
“AI will do to white-collar jobs what machines, tractors and robotics have been doing to blue-collar jobs for a long time now,” says Sorman-Nilsson. “AI will do to our brains what machines have been doing to our brawns. Process workers who have to do a lot of paper pushing will be upended. White-collar jobs aren’t exempt. Banking and lower-end jobs will be impacted. Everything from mortgage approval to trade settlements—anything that is highly process-oriented can be done by a machine.”
Even in the creative arts, we’re seeing signs of AI creeping into the workplace. Adobe Sensei uses AI and machine learning to help make tedious processes faster. It’s becoming a popular tool for designers and architects. “AI is already making inroads in the architecture sphere,” says Sorman-NIlsson. “Adobe is now using AI to help designers. In a sense it will augment and amplify human intelligence through AI.”
The Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg is an example of architectural excellence combined with the power of algorithms. Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, best known for designing the Tate Modern in London and the Olympic ‘Bird’s Nest’ Stadium in Beijing, teamed up with Japanese acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota to use algorithms to create the auditorium’s 10,000 unique acoustic panels. This computer-aided approach is an example of AI and human design coming together.
“A large part of the concert hall’s design, acoustics and aesthetics was aided by AI,” says Sorman-Nilsson of the USD843 million project, which ran seven years over schedule but stands out as one of the most amazing buildings in the hometown of classical artists like Mendelssohn and Johannes Brahms.
“The thing that scares me today is not so much that AI is getting sophisticated and moving from narrow artificial intelligence to broader intelligence to become more human-like. It’s that as humans we are lagging behind learning, development, curiosity and change—the latter being something we are not good at,” he says.
“Machines learn changes all of the time and this is why autonomous vehicles or Siri are getting better by all of the data they take in, which is unlike humans who can repeat mistakes time and time again. That wouldn’t happen with AI or machine learning.”
A second renaissance of human creativity is the upside of AI and according to Sorman-Nilsson it’s a sign that while programmers are trying to code creativity, it is still driven by the individual. Sorman-Nilsson says if we allow AI to take over the manual task-driven aspects of work life, it frees us up for more human connections, which is a positive outcome.
“What will also emerge is a getting back to the basics of what it is to be human.”
“Both in our relationships and with ourselves, we can find more focus, meaning and purpose in life and find time to disconnect from the digital world and go analogue with the humans around us. I believe AI will free us up a lot.”
On a broader scale, and one debated by scientists around the world, is whether AI can code for humanity and the environment. It remains a contentious topic. Can AI solve global warming?
“If you asked AI to solve global warming and didn’t give it some serious boundaries, the first thing AI might do is wipe out humanity. The entire natural world will flourish, but we’d be gone. We have to be careful how we ethically try to solve things,” says Sorman-Nilsson.
According to a World Economic Forum report titled Harnessing Artificial Intelligence for Earth, in India, AI has helped farmers get 30 percent higher groundnut yields per hectare by providing information on preparing the land, applying fertiliser and sowing dates. In Norway, AI helped create a flexible and autonomous electric grid that integrated more renewable energy. It’s evident that technological progress like these has expanded the possibilities of human achievement. We’re able to solve problems that were once unsolvable.
According to Suleyman, the power of AI comes down to how humans allow it to behave. “A fairer world won’t emerge by accident,” he says. “We need our institutions to guarantee ethical outcomes and to preserve human dignity as societies and technologies evolve.”
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