Sunday, 18 September 2016

AI and the future of work

I've gone a little bit thoughtful on this one, don't worry, in a couple of days I'm going to be talking about chocolate :)

I read this interview with Mike Lynch today, which mentions the company Luminance and how its AI can automate part of lawyers workloads, handling due diligence and other tasks, work which would often take up a great deal of time, freeing up lawyers to spend their time on the more complex and challenging elements of their role.

I view this as one of the steps on the road to having a society dependent on AI.  For decades now technology has been used to carry out tasks quickly and easily, like car assembly and other manufacture.  Now AI is coming in to automate the more routine elements of what, for the sake of this blog, I'll call "professional work" (not that I think that the work undertaken by lawyers or other professionals is more important than manufacturing, merely different).

It won't stop there.

Think of all the repetitive tasks in any office job.  In fact, not just office jobs - in any job.  The combination of AI and physical technology will result in machines able to carry out larger elements of any job.  Consider medicine - how much of the typical doctors work could be done by a sufficiently knowledgeable database, a computer able to analyse symptoms to produce an answer?

I foresee work as we know it changing massively over the next 2-4 decades.  Humans won't be needed for so much work - we will get to the point where technology is quicker, and most critically cheaper, to do so much. Society will have to come to terms with the reality that not everyone has to work.

I don't look upon this brave new world with fear.  It'll be fascinating - we should be able to run the world with every human suitably fed, clothed, and enjoying at least a minimum level of comfort.  We'll be set free to spend our lives creating, with our families, exploring, and thinking.

There will be huge challenges, of course.  The removal of the link between work and having a reasonable amount of money to live on, perhaps resulting in the provision of basic income, or the Finnish experiment currently being undertaken. The challenge of course will be to ensure that people are happy, that they still contribute in some positive way to society - but there would be opportunities also.

How many people are in jobs that they truly enjoy, and how many have ended up in jobs which are tolerable, maybe even reasonably pleasing, but not what they ever really wanted to do - and because of the position that we are now in (mortgages, families and the like) people are unable to consider retraining to a job that they might enjoy more?

Exciting times.


  1. I think I had a similar thought to you before I read it. Maybe if AI does all the repetive work, we can concentrate on the fun, creative work. :)

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