Here's why AI will eliminate millions of jobs - and why it's not as bad as it seems

Linus Wittkamp May 8, 2019

While nowadays artificial intelligence is an undeniable cornerstone of the fourth industrial revolution, the overall notion is pretty divided: Some reports present artificial intelligence as the root for a dystopian landscape which leaves millions of workers unemployed, other opinions tend to see artificial intelligence as a chance to improve overall productivity and create new dimensions of work we might not even (be capable to) imagine yet. In 1962, John F. Kennedy described the maintenance of full employment in the age of automation as the major domestic challenge of the 1960s, but while the fear of innovation remained, automation lead to a shift of skills demanded on the labour market.


In 1950, around 34% of the US population aged 25 and older had completed at least 4 years of high school. 50 years later, high school graduation went from being the tag of a sophisticated minority of the population to the minimum education level obtained by 4 out of 5 adults . In fact, no technological shift ended up destroying more jobs than it created. Why? Because it eliminated the kind of work that kept people from using the part of their bodies which brought us to where we are today: Our brains.

US workers would delegate about 42% of their tasks to artificial intelligence.

The software company ABBYY conducted a survey which found out that if possible, US workers would delegate about 42% of their tasks to artificial intelligence. These mainly include topics like manual data entry, taking minutes and notes as well as electronic filing. Considering that almost 50% of the employees time is consumed by simple, repetitive tasks makes it hard to not acknowledge the potential provided by the use of AI technology.

It is important to understand that the introduction of AI is not about replacing people but about expanding human capabilities: While grammar tools helped me writing this text, they provided me with more time to work on other topics and increased the overall productivity of my workforce.

There is no doubt that the shifting of certain job skills demanded on the job market will, in fact, lead to redundancies but marking this development as invariably bad is the wrong approach to assess artificial intelligence.

“If a typical person can do a mental task with less than one second of thought, we can probably automate it using AI either now or in the near future.”

According to PwC's global AI study, automation through artificial intelligence could cost up to 7 million jobs in the UK by 2037. Sounds tragic? Actually, it’s not too bad: The rise in robots and machine-learning software will improve productivity which brings around 7.2 million jobs until then. And no, these jobs won’t really consist of assembling robots (to be clear, according to PwC this will only make up around 5% of the employment). Most of these jobs (around 22%) will be in health and social work, sectors which can hardly be taken over by a robot.

Andrew Ng, computer scientist, founding lead of the Google Brain Team and professor at Stanford University, provides a good rule of thumb to define which jobs can be automated and which not: “If a typical person can do a mental task with less than one second of thought, we can probably automate it using AI either now or in the near future.”

Automating these tasks is a chance many critics tend to overlook: Especially jobs that require any kind of human qualities (often referred to as “soft skills”) will be in high demand in the future job markets. These include proficiencies such as empathy, critical thinking or communication: No one wants to talk about their feelings with a machine, and even though law firms use AI to identify relevant documents in legal cases, there is no doubt that a judicial decision needs affirmation through human evaluation.

Furthermore, it is crucial to understand that the way how AI currently works is based on logical conclusions made by the program, referred to the data we feed it with. This is fine if we want to work with exact numbers and clear definitions, but some jobs require a certain amount of disregard of standards: All jobs related to imagination and creativity, such as inventors, writers, entrepreneurs or artists seem to be secured for a remarkable amount of time.

There’s no question about being intimidated by such a powerful technology but in the end, it is not the technology which is threatening us, it is how we deal with it. New technologies bring new responsibilities: It’s naive to characterize the future of work as heaven on earth, but so is postmarking it as an unemployed dystopia. How to prepare? Stay up to date! Learning new skills is key but as you’re already here I’m glad to tell you, you’re on the right path!

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