Will AI machines complement or make human labour obsolete?

Even when automation is increasing at a galloping pace, there will still be the need for human labour in the workspace. [istockphoto]

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Future of Jobs Report of October 2020 indicated that machines with artificial intelligence (AI) would replace nearly 85 million jobs by 2025.

While doing so, however, AI would create 97 million jobs by the same year. The net impact, therefore, is an increase in jobs created.

The extrapolation creates fear among many and by the day, as new inventions are made and earth-shattering software developed, the question of people getting pushed out of work resurfaces.

Could there come a time that all the cars on our roads are driverless? Will automation in farms get to a point where farmers just sit in their houses and wait for their tractors to do everything for them; plant, irrigate, spray, harvest and transport?

Will computers sit to form policy and amend constitutions? Will this technology run the world?

While some argue that this time is within sight, a number of experts think that machines can never quite replace humans.

That even when automation is increasing at a galloping pace, there will still be the need for human labour in the workspace.

The machines, say the experts, simply lack the ability to execute tasks at the same level, and to be as flexible while at it.

“Do you think,” asked a Twitter user, “that a robot will give way to a matatu whose driver has picked the wrong lane and is pushing the rest of the traffic out of his way? Unless all the vehicles on the road are driven by robots!”

Experts think that machines can never quite replace humans. [istockphoto]

There are millions of decisions that humans have to make on the spot, some in the responses argued, and machines would have to be fed with a huge amount of data so they can react appropriately to these many possibilities.

MUO, an online technology platform, says that regardless of how well AI machines are programmed to respond to humans, it is unlikely that humans will ever develop such a strong emotional connection with these machines.

“Hence, AI cannot replace humans, especially as connecting with others is vital for business growth,” it writes.

“AI can only function based on the data it receives. Anything more than that would take on more than it can handle, and machines are not built that way. So, when the data inputted into the machine does not include a new area of work, or its algorithm does not include unforeseen circumstances, the machine becomes useless.”

MUO also says that when brainstorming creative concepts and ways of doing work, AI lacks this human ability because, “as already established, AI can only work with the data it receives. Hence, it cannot think up new ways, styles, or patterns of doing work and is restricted to the given templates.”

This dependence on templates means that an outcome for every possible event is predetermined.

This is not the case with real-life happenings where the outcomes for the same event may differ based on so many parameters a human brain could consider within an instant, and also based on past experiences that may not be exactly similar.

MUO also says that the lack of soft skills in AI means that humans will always have a niche.

“These skills include teamwork, attention to detail, critical and creative thinking, effective communication, and interpersonal skills, to mention but a few.

Machines lack the ability to execute tasks at the same level and to be as flexible while at it. [istockphoto]

These soft skills are in demand in every industry, and you must develop them to succeed professionally.”

The Harvard Business Review suggests that the use of AI would bring such immense fortune to people and to economies, and using AI would add as much as $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030.

“As AI is changing how companies work, many believe that who does this work will change, too — and that organizations will begin to replace human employees with intelligent machines. This is already happening: intelligent systems are displacing humans in manufacturing, service delivery, recruitment, and the financial industry, consequently moving human workers towards lower-paid jobs or making them unemployed. This trend has led some to conclude that in 2040 our workforce may be totally unrecognizable,” it says.

This would be the integration of AI in workspaces that already enjoy the presence of highly skilled human labour.

The 2020 WEF Future of Jobs report indicated that as changes to working accelerate, employers, are bearing witness to a fundamental shift away from “the linear transitions made by workers in previous points of history from school, into specialized training, into work and then along a progressive career ladder, defined by increasing responsibility within an established occupation structure”.

There will need retraining of skills and rethinking of strategy to ensure that people are not pushed out of employment due as AI becomes even more advanced, the research showed. And different skill sets will be needed and human potential is explored maximally. The “jobs of tomorrow”, amid advancement in AI, will still be available for those who can adapt quickly enough and complement AI.

“In today’s labour market, workers pivot between professions with significantly different skill sets, and navigate mid-career job transitions accompanied by substantial reskilling and upskilling. Those pivots are as important to the success of firms as they are to the prosperity of workers. Without such pivots skills shortages will remain endemic and a scarcity of adequately skilled individuals to fill the jobs of tomorrow will lead to a persistent productivity lag,” the WEF report indicated.

“The route to unlocking the value of human potential in tandem with profitability is to employ a ‘good jobs strategy', halting the erosion of wages, making work meaningful and purposeful, expanding employees’ sense of growth and achievement, promoting and developing talent on the basis of merit and proactively designing against racial, gender or other biases.”

Conscious effort, however, is needed to give “a more productive and more rewarding future of work”, it said.

 “One, increasing company oversight of strategic people metrics and two, effective job transitions from declining to emerging roles through well-funded reskilling and upskilling mechanisms,” WEF said. 

 “There is an emerging consensus among companies that long-term value is most effectively created by serving the interests of all stakeholders. Companies that hold themselves accountable will be both more viable and valuable in the long-term.”

It adds: "To do so, companies need a series of new metrics which can, at the Board and C-suite level, make visible the impact companies have on key desirable outcomes to governance, planet, people and prosperity."

Premium 'We are losing Sh3 billion on protest days, investors lament
Premium Why it's time to overcome the fear of mass action and its after-effects
By Brian Ngugi 23 hrs ago
Political risk insurance demand high amid street demonstrations
By Nzau Musau 1 day ago
Standard Editor lands global role
The Standard
Make this Easter memorable with our KES999 annual offer!