Some experts warn that artificial intelligence could take over many human jobs in the near future. But there are still some skills that computers can’t master – at least not yet.
For centuries, humans have faced the fear that new machines – from spinning machines to computers – would take their jobs. But humans have always adapted and survived. Now, some experts say, with AI becoming more widespread and powerful, the fear is becoming real: some jobs are really at risk of being replaced by robots.
A report from Goldman Sachs in March 2023 predicted that AI that can generate content could do a quarter of all the work that humans do now. The report also said that 300 million jobs in the European Union and US could be lost to automation. This could have serious consequences, says Martin Ford, author of Rule of the Robots: How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything.
“It’s not just a problem for individuals, but for the whole society,” he says. “It could happen to many people, maybe very quickly, maybe at the same time. And that could affect not only those people, but the whole economy.”
However, there is also some good news. The experts also say that there are some things that AI can’t do – things that require human qualities, like emotional intelligence and creative thinking. And focusing on those skills could help reduce the chances of being replaced.
“I think there are three types of jobs that will be relatively safe in the near future,” says Ford. “The first one is jobs that are truly creative: you’re not doing routine work or just reorganising things, but you’re creating new ideas and making something new.”
That doesn’t mean that all jobs that are seen as ‘creative’ are safe. In fact, some jobs like graphic design and visual art-related jobs may be among the first to go; simple algorithms can teach a bot to analyse millions of images, allowing AI to learn aesthetics instantly. But there is some security in other kinds of creativity, says Ford: “in science, and medicine and law … people who create new legal or business strategies. I think there will still be a place for humans there”.
The second type of safe jobs, he says, is jobs that need complex interpersonal relationships. He mentions nurses, business consultants and investigative journalists. These are jobs, he says, “where you need to understand people very well. I think it will take a long time before AI can interact in the ways that really build relationships”.
The third type of safe jobs, says Ford, “are jobs that require a lot of mobility and dexterity and problem-solving ability in unpredictable situations”. Many trade jobs – like electricians, plumbers, welders and so on – belong to this category. “These are the kinds of jobs where you face a new situation all the time,” he adds. “They are probably the hardest to automate. To automate these jobs, you would need a robot from science fiction. You’d need C-3PO from Star Wars.”
While humans will probably keep their jobs in these categories, that doesn’t mean those jobs won’t change because of AI. In fact, says Joanne Song McLaughlin, associate professor of labour economics at the University of Buffalo, US, most jobs, no matter what industry they are in, have parts that could be automated by AI.
“In many cases, there’s no immediate threat to jobs,” she says, “but tasks will change.” Human jobs will become more focused on interpersonal skills, says Song McLaughlin. “It’s easy to imagine that AI will diagnose cancers much better than humans can. In the future, I think doctors will use that new technology. But I don’t think doctors will be completely replaced by AI.”