For approximately a hundred years, humans have theorized the possibility of artificial intelligence and the implications that such an invention would bring about. In literature and on the big screen, we read or see stories where artificial intelligence overthrows humanity and tries to wipe us off the face of the earth. Authors and movie producers aren’t the only ones spreading fear of AI. Some of the most brilliant minds of today, like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have also issued warnings about the potential for AI to turn against humanity if given too much independence.
But another fear, and perhaps one that’s a little more understandable, is that AI could one day leave millions of people jobless as their work is outsourced to artificially intelligent machines. This thought isn’t a new one. It was first brought up in the 70s and 80s when computers were becoming more mainstream. The discussion has been rekindled due to recent advancements in artificial intelligence. The question then is, do we really need to fear? The answer isn’t so simple.
The computer revolution scare
When computers were starting to become more affordable and mainstream in the late 70s and through the 80s, many people feared that companies would fire humans and replace them with computers who could do the work that people did. Because computers were cheaper than paying employees in the long run, it wasn’t hard to believe that companies might favor computers over human workers.
But of course, we never saw the widespread job loss that many predicted. Though computers did have a huge impact on the workforce, this impact was largely positive. Though many jobs were replaced by computers, the existence of computers in the workplace led to many more jobs than it eliminated.
Will the robot revolution will be different
Though similar fears have been put to rest in the past, those warning of an impending job crisis due to the advancement of artificial intelligence and robotics say this time will be different. Already artificial intelligence is demonstrating its ability to perform tasks that could in theory render many human professions obsolete. For instance, driverless cars are already a reality that will eventually become mainstream. Who needs bus or taxi drivers when buses and taxis can be outfitted with a computer that can follow a specified route or take people to a specified destination?
Of course, just like with the computer revolution, a robot revolution would certainly create jobs as well as people would be needed to design them.
Blue collar vs. white collar jobs
Though the robot revolution will certainly have a large impact on the workforce, it’s still unclear what that impact will be. Some argue that blue collar jobs face the largest risk as the work is menial and can more easily be replaced. But others have been quick to point out that as artificial intelligence becomes more intelligent, white collar jobs might also be at stake, perhaps even more so than blue collar jobs. In the end, people in the work force will just have to wait and see what the robot revolution brings.