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11 Nov 2019

This year's Health, Wealth & Happiness report spat out dozens of interesting trends and nuggets that define the UK's headspace on life and work topics.

One globule immediately caught the eye: it turns out that despite the scary big headlines, the prospect of AI taking our jobs really doesn't faze us Brits.

According to the Office of National statistics, AI and automation threatens 1.5m UK workers. Within a decade, so says PwC, automation could replace up to 30% of the UK workforce.

A range of big voices – including Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Alibaba’s Jack Ma – continually pipe up to tell us to “prepare for more pain than happiness” as AI sinks its claws into the world. 

But do Brits care? Not really. Health, Wealth & Happiness 2019 reveals that just 8% of us fear the rise of the robots, while 38% believe nothing will change. Nearly one in four (24%) of us believe AI will in fact be a net positive on our jobs.

Are we right to be so blasé? Drivers, factory and admin staff, sure, but what about creatives, emergency workers and Hollywood stars - surely AI won't bother them …

Writers?

Creatives of all stripes have long clung onto the belief that robots can't create and nurture ideas. Sure, AI can do process-driven tasks, but bringing stories to life takes soul - and AI don't got soul.
However, newspapers such as The New York Times, Reuters, Washington Post, and Yahoo! already use AI to generate written content. Programs at The Press Association, for example, now produce circa 30,000 local news stories a month.

Businesses, too, use programs based in Natural Language Generation (NLG) to produce reports, financial forecasts and even emails.

And before writers claim that this sounds more about process than prose, NLG has creative storytelling down too.

In Japan 2016, NLG was used to create an almost award-winning novel entitled, The Day a Computer Writes a Novel, which was described as “scarily well-written”. In late 2018, Hollywood director Kevin Macdonald took charge of a 60-second Lexus advert based on a storyboard produced by AI.

Chefs and surgeons?

Michelin-standard dishes require humans, right? Chefs need to taste their food; to experiment with flavour combinations and use their digital dexterity and timing to pull off five star meals with no margin for error. Can a machine handle that?

Yes.

Chopping, dicing, slicing, creating - robots are already commanding kitchens across the world. Several robotics companies, including British company, Moley, are working on machines that can not only learn new recipes (and execute them) … but clean up after themselves too.

Boston restaurant Spyce was one of the first to replace human cooks with robot chefs and it has since become a major business selling point.

In developing countries, start-up restaurants are embracing robo kitchens as a way to ensure consistent culinary results while keeping costs down in the long term.

As much as cooking and surgery can ever be compared, the act of delicate and precision cutting and weaving in the kitchen isn't a million miles from surgery in the OR. Robots have been lending a hand in the operating theatre for a decade, and some scientists estimate they'll be able to handle surgery independently by 2050.

Police?

Nothing's more ludicrous than the idea of robot police officers, correct? We all saw the movie and the whole dead or alive you're coming with me schtick. But in the real world we need flesh and blood police. Don't we? DON'T WE?

You know the pattern here. Robocop was no movie.

In 2017, Dubai launched a robot copper and claimed it wanted 25% of its force to be automated by 2030. Dubai's Robo PC is multilingual, it lets residents report low-level offences and pay their traffic fines. It even shakes hands and salutes.

Police here have been using automatons to dismantle bombs and search buildings for years. In California, an egg shaped police robot was first released in 2018 to patrol the city's streets, alleys and parks to search for troubling behaviour and feed live video back to HQ.

None of these bots resemble the 80s movie hero, but as a sign of things to come it's telling. 

Emergency workers generally can't escape the thought that robots might step in. The driving part (driverless cars), the front line stuff (robocop), the risk-analysis, report-writing, and scrutinising evidence (feels a lot like AI work), the intricate tasks (surgery, bomb disposal robots). It's not so far-fetched … 

Actors?

This profession is surely safe. After all, no artificial being can show emotion like a human. Do you want the truth?

Sigh. You can’t handle the truth. 

Actors aren't safe either. No one's saying robots are about to be cast over humans in live action movies, but with software anything’s possible. If given the choice, would movie makers opt for the expensive A-lister when there's pixels and code on standby?

Hollywood has already used computers to cheat death and build live action scenes from scratch. Brandon Lee, Carrie Fisher and Oliver Reed all passed away while filming movies, but AI and clever code were able to step in and finish the job, so to speak.

In computer game land through the 2000s, the race was on to bridge what was called the uncanny valley, to make digital-only characters look and feel as real as possible. Graphics are there now.

Some two years ago, a purely AI creation called Lil Miquela – a digital model/ actor – was released into the world and her Instagram (yes, the robot's Instagram) blew up with 1.7 million followers. She's not entirely human, but she is bloomin' life-like. “She” has even written for Vogue. 

Is the movie-going public prepared to get behind fake icons? It seems so.

CEOs

If ever there was a job that's safe it's the CEO.

CEOs are personalities, they’re leaders. They’re accountable for hundreds, thousands of staff. They're figureheads for companies. They make the right and tough decisions. They steer the ship. Robots can't do that. No, robots definitely can't do that. They can't.

Oh, what – they can?

As quoted in an article entitled Experts Are Starting to Agree that AI Will Replace CEOs, Alibaba's Jack Ma said
“The Time Magazine cover for the best CEO of the year will (in 30 years) very likely be a robot. It remembers better than you, it counts faster than you, and it won’t be angry with competitors.”
If the role of CEO is an amalgamation of process jobs, analysis and decision-making, personality management and (in an ideal world) reporting the truth, none of those are exclusively human. Not any more. The relationship-management side of the CEO feels much more exclusive to humans, but – like driverless cars – let’s say there’s a tipping point where most or all CEOs are actually software programs and the world’s golf courses may just take a hit. 

Singularly or as a package of tools, machines – or more accurately AI and machine learning software – have more than enough chops to handle the day-to-day tasks of the CEO. And if it’s not already, chances are the technology will quickly get there. If a robot can handle surgery, it can handle the numbers for the board meeting.

Should we be worried?

On a long enough timeline AI and automation will change the jobs market beyond anything we can envision or comprehend today. Think what life looked like 20 years ago and imagine where it could go in the next 20.

Many argue for AI as a good thing, ready to take over menial and process-driven jobs, leaving humans to do what we do best: create and laugh and live and love. It's a nice idea.

In preparation for the day when there are fewer jobs, some countries – notably Finland – trialled giving a sample of the population a basic living wage. A wage just because … unattached to any job or job-seeking obligations.

If you want to know how safe your job is then please throw it into the machine at https://willrobotstakemyjob.com/.

We should warn you, this machine is probably a piece of AI so it'll no doubt give you a pleasing answer as it and its buddies plot the downfall of the UK jobs market. 

There's a screenplay in that idea but unfortunately a robot already wrote it. Drat.

 

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