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Artificial Intelligence

Inventing our own futures

While opinions still differ over the impact artificial intelligence (AI) will have on society in general, the one certainty is that it will lead to profound changes in the nature of work and how it is organised, and Ireland needs to prepare for that.

“The jury is still out on whether digital labour at a pure numeric level will increase or decrease employment, but its potential impact is too significant to be left solely to the developers and owners of AI technology platforms”, says KPMG management consulting partner Owen Lewis. Noting the recent announcements on developing an AI strategy for Ireland, Lewis points out that countries like China and Singapore already have such strategies in place. “China sees artificial intelligence as a new engine for economic development and aims to be at the forefront of AI driven innovation globally by 2030”, he says.

And little wonder. According to the 2017 Forrester report The future of work 2027: Working side by side with robots, automation will change every job category by at least 25 per cent. But how transformative will AI really be?

Contradictory findings

Lewis cites KPMG research which revealed that 60 per cent of HR executives say it will eliminate more jobs than it creates while 62 per cent of chief executives say it will create more jobs than it eliminates. These seemingly contradictory findings are probably explained by the different perspectives of the executives surveyed. Chief executives are naturally focused on business growth and will see the potential of AI from that point of view while HR executives will tend to look at its ability to replace jobs.

And no industry will be immune, according to Lewis. All sectors will be impacted: manufacturing, transport, leisure, media and entertainment, life sciences, construction, public services, energy, retail, healthcare, banking and insurance and many more besides.

AI will enable autonomous cars and trucks, fully automated factories, personalised medicine, intelligent cities, crime prediction, smart energy grids, all of which will have profound economic and societal implications.

Making the most of human

“Despite some voicing doom and gloom scenarios of massive unemployment, cognitive technologies can spur the creation of new jobs and enhance human skills and expertise allowing us to do things better, faster and frankly achieve things once thought impossible”, Lewis contends. “The types of tasks that humans will perform in the future will change, and likely to be more impactful in routine tasks carried out as part of middle-income jobs. The challenge for leaders is to integrate and make the most of human and the emerging digital labour force.”

He recommends business leaders to take a systematic approach to thinking about how the size and shape of their workforce should change as a result of AI.

Questions they should ask include if the use of AI will improve a business or society: Are we comfortable that AI decisions will be correct, devoid of bias, and reflect real world dynamics? Can we explain decisions to impacted parties and in doing so ensure we have considered important ethical human values? What is needed to take an opportunity forward, thinking here about adequate controls, compliance with regulation, human to machine interfaces, technology challenges and so on?

AI provides us with an opportunity to uncouple our minds from the mundane.

Owen Lewis, Partner, Management Consulting, KPMG in Ireland.

The positive view

Lewis takes a determinedly positive view of the potential of AI, however. “AI provides us with an opportunity to uncouple our minds from the mundane and focus on both immediate challenges and future opportunities”, he says. “We will see some sectors suffer from disruptive forces, but this has to become the exception to the rule. It is incumbent on society to build a future that we can all prosper in.”

Building this future will require consideration of a number of factors, he adds. “How will we reward and encourage innovation and open up opportunities for humans to make possible what was once impossible? How will we distribute wealth when everyday jobs have been replaced by machines? Will there be an honest day’s work available for everyone?”

Inventing our own futures

Skills and talent remain critical to the journey into an AI enabled society. “Not everyone is going to become an AI engineer, we need to continue to put more emphasis on human to human professions such as carers, teachers, health professionals etc. and use AI technologies to augment their roles to increase efficiency and effectiveness”

And this leads naturally back to the importance of our national innovation strategy. “What is becoming clearer is these discussions need to be much more focused on a balanced view of economic and societal impact”, says Lewis. “Ireland is very well placed to be a global centre of excellence for innovation and AI enabled start-ups and we are already seeing great success here. AI tasks leaders of governments, the tech giants and a broader ecosystem with the real question of where will the evolution of human intelligence take us to next. We’ve been here before and I’ve a sneaky feeling us humans will rise up to the challenge. It’s time to invent our own futures.”

This article was originally published in The Irish Times and is reproduced here with their kind permission.

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