Automation and Artificial Intelligence: Friend or Foe?

Author: Graciotto Van Handriyanto

“Will I lose my job?”

Millions of labors asked the same questions to their employer, government, and ultimately to the future. The rise of automation, be it by a simple robotics or a more complex artificial intelligence seems to make blue collar labor an ineffective means of production. Martin Ford, an American Futurist writes in his book Rise of Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future

“As robotics and advanced self-service technologies are increasingly deployed across nearly every sector of the economy, they will primarily threaten lower-wage jobs that requires modest levels of education and training. These jobs, however, currently make up the vast majority of the new positions being generate by the economy…”[1]

This issue transcends the concern of United States and developed countries and it even resonances throughout the globe inquiring states to decide a stance, are robots and AI a friend or foe?

To answer this question, we need to look back to the past and see how this very question has been perpetuated for decades. Thanks to innovations, machines and technologies has been constantly replacing human, and most of the time it is rather unpleasant.  The creation of digital camera for an example, renders the service of photo development shops useless. During the 1950s and early 1960, the concerns over automation and joblessness was so strong that the in 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson creates the “Blue-Ribbon National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress” to confront the productivity problem of that period. [2] Matthew Yglesias argues that apparently despite of all the tragedy of innovations, the society as a whole always thrive. Innovations leads to a huge leap forward and on average, job growth continued and living standard rises.[3]

So, what happened? For starters, automation allows people to work less. Historically speaking, people work less hours and the economy doesn’t fail. Take employment to population ratio as an example, it grows from 55% in the 1950 to an average of 60% in 1980[4]. Wages also rose faster than inflation, generating wealth and welfare for the society in general. This too reduces inequality due to the fact that advance technologies are accessible to everyone instead of only limited to a small group of elites.

What’s next? The technology has evolved, creating changes beyond basic mechanical function. The rise of A.I leads to advance automation such as self-driving car or home assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. Frey and Osborne wrote in their working paper that as technology advances and goes forward, low-skill workers will reallocate to tasks that are non-susceptible to computerization such as tasks that requires creative and social intelligence, and as such creative and social skill are necessary to win the race.[5] But in order to be utilized by the general public, technological advances needs to be accompanied by companies that can use them and the creation of practical products of the technology. Vox’s Ezra Klein argues that “developing technology turns out to be a lot easier than getting people – and particularly companies – to use it properly.”[6]

Friend or Foe? Changes would always be surprising for some, but in general it’s necessary to understand that it’s a step toward the future. Automation and artificial intelligence take our job, but jobs change throughout the years. Understand that all these technological developments are no foe, they assist us on daily basis and makes life easier for everyone. Man needs to adapt to the new form of jobs that requires creative and social skill and create companies that makes these advancements be used by and benefitting everyone. So, embrace technology as your friend and utilize its never-ending potential.

Footnotes:

[1] Martin Ford, Rise of Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (New York: Basic Books, 2015), 26

[2] David H. Autor, “Why Are There Still So Many Jobs? The History and Future of Workplace Automation,” Journal of Economic Perspectives Vol. 29, No. 3 (2015): 3-4

[3] Matthew Yglesias, “The automation myth,” Vox, published on July 2015, and accessed on April 8th 2019, https://www.vox.com/2015/7/27/9038829/automation-myth

[4] “Database, Tables & Calculators by Subject: Employment-Population Ratio,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed April 28th 2019, https://data.bls.gov/pdq/SurveyOutputServlet

[5] Carl B. Frey and Michael A. Osborne, “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerization?” Technological Forecasting and Social Change No. 114 (2017):269

[6] Ezra Klein, “Technology is changing ho we live, but it needs to change how we work,” Vox, last updated September, 2016, and accessed on April 8th, 2019, https://www.vox.com/a/new-economy-future/technology-productivity

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