It’s been said before, the future is coming faster than we think. This is true now more than ever as the advent of “AI” and robotics automation is beginning to seriously take hold. I put AI in quotes because it is still far from true artificial intelligence. It is because of significant increases in computing power and networking that increasingly complex algorithms can be run. Which gives the appearance of “intelligence”, but the reality is this is not true intelligence yet. While a machine can learn, it still has to be cultivated and corrected and ultimately it is not really thinking.
Anyone who has engaged at length with Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa, or Apple’s Siri knows that there are plenty of limitations. As great as they are for somethings you very quickly run into problems for anything that is not yet factored in their algorithms and resources they pull information from. Having said that, they and other AI driven technologies are gaining traction in business. I know that there are many others predicting the same thing I am here…
There are many jobs right now that are ripe for being supplanted by AI technologies and in some cases already are being replaced. First there is customer support. The fact is that many first tier support people simply read from a script and this is something AI can do very easily. It is already happening now and the trend will only accelerate from here. Having encountered AI driven support myself, it can be frustrating because they rarely are able to solve the problem, but in many ways neither could the actual humans I would have spoken to previously. Because they would also be limited to the script. I expect in the next 5-10 years we will see a complete take over of the call center the end result being a vast majority of them being shut down and a virtual call center run with AI will take over.
There are many other jobs where people follow basic instructions to fulfill their duties that are or soon will be replaced by technology. Self checkout is exploding into retail stores everywhere and will only continue to grow. Fast food and cafe restaurants are installing self serve kiosks. Panera has already rolled out self-serve ordering tablets and McDonalds is starting to roll out kiosks. Red Robbin has tablets at every table. And while they still have servers, it is clear that the tablet will be extended to support the process of dining out more and more over time. As a side note, some have suggested that this will grow more if the minimum wage is increased, but the reality is it will happen regardless. Again, the truth is the cost for a person already exceeds by far the cost of a kiosk and the supporting technology. Just to be clear I strongly advocate for the increase to minimum wage as I believe it will boost the overall economy when people have more money to spend.
Self driving vehicles are increasingly gaining traction with Uber and other logistics companies looking to put driverless taxis and trucks on the road. This is happening now and it will continue to grow as the technology advances. Again, while there have been some noted serious accidents and issues, the fact remains that the value of this automation is too great.
So we are on the precipice of a major shift in labor the likes of which have never been seen before. As disruptive as the industrial revolution was, the AI and robotic revolution is going to happen faster and more shockingly than anyone has really predicted. And if some one does succeed in developing a true artificial intelligence, then businesses will really begin to rapidly change with tens of millions of jobs no longer needing a human to perform. From my perspective, the call centers are going to be hit very hard very soon and we need to prepare for the shift because there will not be new jobs needing humans to replace those. And I do not see businesses stepping up to take care of people who they no longer need.