Fears about AI as nemesis of jobs

K. Raveendran

The spectre of artificial intelligence (AI) eating away millions of jobs haunts India more than any other BPO destination in the world and has been agitating policy planners, trade unions and the country’s software and other industries. India’s dominance as the outsourcing hub, which is responsible for creating one of the most dynamic growth drivers for the country, hinges on the abundant availability of low-cost and low-skilled personnel. Many of these jobs are supposed to be made redundant by automation. All reports on the subject so far have raised a scare, some suggesting that up to 640,000 low-skilled job in the IT services industry are in danger due to automation by 2021.
But, perhaps for the first time, Gartner, considered to be the most authentic source of insight into technology-related issues, has predicted that artificial intelligence, rather than taking away all the jobs, will add more jobs in the overall scenario. Gartner says that AI will create 2.3 million new jobs in 2020, while eliminating 1.8 million so that in the overall balance it is a gain. It has not estimated the specific numbers for India, but considering that India is a major player in the business, it may be assumed that a large percentage of these jobs will be in this country.
According to Gartner, 2020 will be a pivotal year in AI-related employment dynamics as the technology innovation will become a positive job motivator. The number of jobs affected by AI in 2019 will vary by industry: healthcare, the public sector and education will see continuously growing job demand while manufacturing will be hit the hardest. Starting in 2020, AI-related job creation will cross into positive territory, reaching two million net-new jobs in 2025, it says.
Of course, there will be transition periods of temporary job loss, but this will be followed by recovery. AI will improve the productivity of many jobs, eliminating millions of middle- and low-level positions, but also creating millions more new positions of highly skilled, management and even the entry-level and low-skilled variety.
"Unfortunately, most calamitous warnings of job losses confuse AI with automation — that overshadows the greatest AI benefit — AI augmentation — a combination of human and artificial intelligence, where both complement each other,” Gartner points out. The leading research institution suggests that with each investment in AI-enabled technologies, the industries must take into consideration what jobs will be lost, what jobs will be created, and how it will transform, how workers collaborate with others, make decisions and get work done.
"Now is the time to really impact your long-term AI direction," says a key Gartner official. "For the greatest value, focus on augmenting people with AI. Enrich people's jobs, reimagine old tasks and create new industries. Transform your culture to make it rapidly adaptable to AI-related opportunities or threats."
Gartner has identified additional predictions related to AI’s impact on the workplace: By 2022, one in five workers engaged in mostly non-routine tasks will rely on AI to do a job. AI has already been applied to highly repeatable tasks where large quantities of observations and decisions can be analysed for patterns. However, applying AI to less-routine work that is more varied due to lower repeatability will soon start yielding superior benefits. AI applied to non-routine work is more likely to assist humans than replace them as combinations of humans and machines will perform more effectively than either human experts or AI-driven machines working alone will.
"Using AI to auto-generate a weekly status report or pick the top five emails in your inbox doesn't have the same wow factor as, say, curing a disease would, which is why these near-term, practical uses go unnoticed," says Craig Roth, research vice president at Gartner. "Companies are just beginning to seize the opportunity to improve non-routine work through AI by applying it to general-purpose tools. Once knowledge workers incorporate AI into their work processes as a virtual secretary or intern, robo-employees will become a competitive necessity."
But Gartner points out that the efforts of multichannel retailers to replace sales associates through AI will prove unsuccessful at least until 2022, although cashier and operational jobs will be disrupted. Leveraging technologies such as AI and robotics, retailers will be able to use intelligent process automation to identify, optimize and automate labour-intensive and repetitive activities that are currently performed by humans, reducing labour costs through efficiency from headquarters to distribution centres and stores. Many retailers are already expanding technology use to improve the in-store check-out process.
However, research suggests that many consumers still prefer to interact with a knowledgeable sales associate when visiting a store, particularly in specialised areas such as home improvement, drug stores and cosmetics, where informed associates can make a significant impact on customer satisfaction. Though they will reduce labour used for check-out and other operational activities, retailers will find it difficult to eliminate traditional sales advisers.
Retailers will be able to make labour savings by eliminating highly repetitive and transactional jobs, but will need to reinvest some of those savings into training associates who can enhance the customer experience, Gartner points out. AI augmentation is expected to generate $2.9 trillion in business value and recover 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity in 2021.
While many industries will receive growing business value from AI, manufacturing is one that will receive a massive share of business value opportunity. Automation will lead to cost savings, while the removal of friction in value chains will increase revenue further, for example, in the optimisation of supply chains and go-to-market activities.
What is of utmost importance to India is that industries such as outsourcing will see a fundamental change in their business models, which necessitates reinvestment of savings achieved by way of cost reduction and productivity improvement through AI and perusal of new business model opportunities. (IPA)

Thursday, 28 December, 2017