Life runs on a bit of a paradox, there is only one constant and that constant is change. From the smallest part of nature to the most complex aspects of human society, everything is in perpetual motion and thus, change is an ever-unfolding reality that dictates the context within which we live. Most of life on this planet has a somewhat passive role in change being just a little cog in this massive ecosystem, but humans were able to somehow escape this equilibrium and we arrived at a point in which we can bring forth planetary in very short intervals of time.
There main reason for the massive influence we have over the world is our capacity of distilling understanding into technology. From the domestication of fire to the industrial revolution and now with the awakening of artificial intelligence, mankind has found new ways of massively disrupting the world and opening never before imagined possibilities. Although this speaks to the ingenuity of humans, we have seen time and again that morals are not something we particularly excel at, but maybe we can do better in the near future, more on that later.
But our capacity of inflicting planetary short and medium term change is something that just recently became apparent; it’s hard for me to imagine that people were able to predict that the invention of the steam engine would have a snowball that would mature in an avalanche of climate change. The reason why this massive influence over our surroundings became apparent only in the past decades is that it accelerated; increased human understanding was able to produce exponential technologies which in turn increase our capability of inflicting change at a never before imagined levels.
There is a direct and undeniable correlation between exponential technology and disruptive change; the technologies which have the biggest growth have the fastest influence in their domain of application. And because we live in a world of exponential technologies, disruptive change is the mantra of tomorrow; the next 100 years will most probably have a greater impact on the planet, society and humankind than the last 10.000 years; and we need to face this reality and do our best to plan for it.
And there is no more immediate, unfolding technological reality then artificial intelligence. The convergence of multiple exponential technologies like processing, machine learning, natural language understanding, and sensors is bringing forth the most massive change humankind has ever initiated. We are on the verge of automating massive amounts of intelligence and creating an extension for human ingenuity which will leave no aspect of this world untouched; from singular biology to complex societal structures we will very quickly have the possibility of upgrading both individual humans, as well as the way we organize as a species.
And although my tendency is to project this in a positive light, the short and medium term effects will most probably be very unpleasant. I will try to paint a picture of how this process would look if we keep the same societal model and underscore the need for a cultural shift in order to avoid the pitfalls of this transition, I will also touch upon the specific effects this will have on the job market at the end of each point.
Humans workforce in the context if artificial intelligence
The use case I find most exciting for AI is the extension of human capacity. Instead of AI being something only digitally programmable, the advent of brain-machine interfaces will give us the possibility of creating an exocortex; basically, we will be able to upgrade and outsource processing and storage capabilities in the “cloud”. AI will then function as an added layer of consciousness and this interweaving of digital into biology would arguably add infinite processing and storage, which is both fantastic and terrifying.
As we saw with the mass adoption of computers to aid with different work-related tasks, this created a bottleneck for employment because the vast number of jobs are today dependent of using the processing and storage power of a computer. In a future where brain-machine interfaces are as common as computers were 10 years ago, it’s very easy to imagine that some tasks will only be achievable with such an AI augmentation. This means that not only AI will displace a very wide range of jobs, but the ones left will be done better by people which will use this technology.
Technological unemployment statistics even go as high of 50%, meaning that half of our population will not be competitive in an AI disrupted job market, which is unsettling at the very least. We saw these kinds of shifts in the past and new jobs have been created in the transition, so the job market was able to adapt and keep the pace, but none of the other shifts were so massive and fast. And this is just the direct influence artificial intelligence has on human labor, but there are other more subtle ways this technology will influence the job market through governance, education and even human resources.
Governance in the context of artificial intelligence
Our current governance model is based on hierarchies, which even at this moment does not fare very well. Over the course of history, we saw that hierarchies have lead to the concentration of power in the hands of the few, which in turn created massive wealth inequality. This is like a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the more power and economic influence, the more control over hierarchical structures. Thus we have slavery and wage labor as the predominant manifestations of the job market, in which the few use the many in order to accumulate even more power and wealth.
This is bad enough in natural law, but with the advent of AI we can expect a further divide between these societal classes if we continue with hierarchical organization. Even at this moment, there are some that refer to the people at the top of hierarchies as “the ruling class”, but the edge given by artificial intelligence would make this an undeniable reality in which the few would be able to automate most of the planet in order to furtherer they power and keep the masses in check. And I really would like to avoid this dystopian future.
Through this prism of AI-driven hierarchical governance, the most like scenario would be an autocratic approach to the job market, in which everything would be centrally controlled and determined. Basically creating a technology driven slavery system in which there are just a few gatekeepers at the doors of employment.
Education in the context of Artificial Intelligence
Mass education is something fairly new in our world, to my knowledge we started down this road with the industrial revolution which was able to bring forth a certain degree of prosperity that fueled this massive endeavor. And because it was created by the industrial revolution it also was tailored to its needs, thus education became a sort of pre-qualification for jobs. I will not go into how AI can better education, but I will focus more on how education should look in order to aid in this transition.
Even at this moment, the educational system is based on long periods of studies which prepare individuals narrow activities in the field of work. This structure was able to produce impressive results in the past, because most of the jobs had a quasi-permanent nature, meaning that if you did a good job in acquiring a specific skill, it could give you 20 or 30 years of competitiveness on the job market. This structure is obsolete even by today’s standards, but will face major difficulties in the near future; because of the increasingly fast changes that will shape our world, acquiring singularly skills that would give long-term competitiveness will no longer be the norm.
AI-driven disruption will create an avalanche of emerging markets in which there are new rules and new skills needed. These new markets will not wait for universities to upgrade their curricula and produce qualified workers to fill the needed positions; this new world will be based on fast and intuitive learning, so only the people that adhere to this new paradigm will really be competitive.
Human resources in the context of artificial intelligence
The role of the HR department in every organization is to prospect and screen people in order to find the best-suited candidates for the available positions. This is not something easy to do, because reading people is not an exact science, although there have been serious investments made in building tools to facilitate this work. Organizations have become better and better at this job mainly because there is more and more data available to study.
Another reality we need to face is that AI with meta-data mined powered algorithms will understand certain aspects of human behavior better that were never ever able to. Combine this with the fact that AI will be able to tell if people lie and what are the emotions we go through, this will make for a totally different job interview. Pinpointing the exact personality type needed for a particular job will be something that can be done most probably from a phone and this will drive the competitiveness of the job market even further.
So, in the near future people will not only need to prove without a doubt they possess specific skills, but they will also be screed for specific personality traits that facilitate the desired end result of the organization making the employment. This will make centralized employment even harder to obtain because organizations will be able to exactly screen for the perfect candidates.
Exponential growth, exponential risks
We went through just four ways the job market can be influenced by AI and saw that each has the possibility of creating an unfortunate future even on their own, but combined, the risk is even higher. Realistically speaking there is no way of safeguarding against all the way an AI-driven future could go wrong at the social scale. The future will invariably be populated by people which refuse augmentation, can’t keep up with the educational pace or just don’t pass rigorous and effective HR screenings; and this will make them obsolete in the centralized job market.
Nonetheless, we need to make sure we minimize the risks associated with each layer, but we also need to go a step further. Just because the environment changes so quickly and a certain layer of society is not able to keep the pace, this does not mean they are second-class citizens or deserve a destiny of poverty. Besides the not so pleasant effects AI has on the job market, it also has the possibility of bringing forth abundance, and we need to make sure this abundance is for all mankind, not just the ones that cannot be replaced by axiomatization in the field of work.
This first part of the blog series was reserved for contextualizing the problem in order to have a larger scope on these pending changes. The other parts will feature possible solutions and cultural shifts we need to make in order to maximize the chances of a good future, education, abundance, universal basic income and demonetizing the cost of living will be among the subjects, so stay tuned.