Kai-Fu Lee is one of many people predicting that AI and robots are going to take all of our jobs. I am also guilty of this hype. In 2014 I wrote extensively in my book The Way of the Navigator about how AI is going to impact and disrupt work and the enterprise and argued that AI and robots would soon be able to do most of the jobs that people do today. It was a wake up call to c-level execs to pay attention because in 2014 I knew very few Fortune 500 CXO’s who had ever even thought about AI. But what people miss, and which Kai-Fu Lee and others should be explaining better, is that millions of other jobs will be created.
Think about it this way; If you had gone to the “people who know everything” in 1950 (i.e. Public policy experts, business leaders, university professors, Davos folks, World Economic Forum types, etc.) and asked them to predict the “future of work” 60 years out (i.e. to today) would any of them have predicted that video games would exist and even if they had predicted them would they also have predicted that billions of people would play them daily sustaining an industry that would create tens of millions of jobs and which would represent billions in revenue? The answer is no. And they wouldn’t have been unreasonable because computers were rare and in their infancy, the Internet wasn’t even envisioned yet, mobile phones and mass communication were decades in the future and so many more technological advances still had to occur before one could even have imagined a “game played with others located around the world on devices including a TV, a computer or a handheld device. And similarly, nobody today can envision the equivalent of the “video game” in the future as we ponder the possibilities, good and bad, of AI and automation. If people tell you they know what the world of work is going to look like in 60 years simply nod your head politely and walk away.
And for fun I am now going to take 30 seconds and list other tech jobs off the top of my head that exist today that didn’t in 1950:
Web developer, IT director, network engineer, graphics designer, User Experience Designer, Solutions architect, Computer Vision engineer, game developer, chatbot developer, natural language processing engineer, machine learning engineer, deep learning engineer, data scientist, data engineer, AI Scientist, robotics engineer, and on and on.
And that is just jobs in tech that didn’t exist, or were just in their infancy, a few decades ago. Today there are 3 MILLION of these jobs open and available if you simply have the qualifications. And most importantly these jobs pay really well and can provide you and your family with a very comfortable life. The average salary of a Data Scientist is $149k which is just slightly higher than the average salary for a lawyer. And this list doesn’t include the millions of well paid non-engineering jobs in tech including marketing, sales, ops, PR, recruiting, etc.
But I don’t want to work in tech as an engineer you say. Ok, I am going to take another 30 seconds and write a list off the top of my head of non-engineering jobs that didn’t exist, or were extremely rare, in the 1950’s but which are now everywhere:
Dog walker, yoga instructor, pilates instructor, massage therapist, life coach, career coach, executive coach, blogger, vlogger, ebook editor, test prep mentor for SAT’s, social media manager, twitter specialist, venture capitalist, acupuncturist, tour guide, cruise ship worker, airline pilot, airport worker, landscape architect, non-profit worker, organic farmer, kompucha maker, camp counselor, after school program manager, nursery school teacher, etc. There - 30 seconds - whew! I could go on for pages I think.
A quick glance at the second set of jobs shows a trend towards work in areas of health/wellness, travel and leisure and education and instruction. I am going to do more research to see if that is where most of the jobs have been created or if I am just personally focused on those areas right now? Maybe another post on this.
The point I am trying to make is that yes, many of the jobs that exist today will be done by AI and intelligent machines and systems but many other jobs will be created. I would argue that new jobs are better than the old jobs. Personally I would rather be a camp counselor than work in a sweatshop sewing all day. Or as a landscape architect instead of deep in the hills as a coal miner.
AI is not the end of the world, it is the exciting beginning of new opportunities.