In the 19th century, the textile workers in England protested against the implementation of machinery in factories as they feared that their skills and knowledge will become useless. It was one of the side effects connected to the industrial revolution which marks the process of the transition from the handwork to the machine production and lasting from the end of the 18the century to the first half of the 19th century. The industrial revolution caused the major social changes and affected almost every aspect of life for the most of the people in countries which became industrialized.
When the technology made the next step in the 1960s and 1970s with many mechanical and analogue machinery was replaced by the digital electronics, the era was started to be called „the digital revolution“. It also changed the lives of many people all around the world. However, it seems that it only paved the way for the real revolution which will impact the world with even more serious consequences. The ascension of the artificial intelligence (AI) is probably inevitable and we are starting to realize that it is able to replace us in so many areas of human activity that the impact on the labor market and the society as a whole will be enormous and comparable with the industrial revolution 250 years ago.
You have probably already experienced the automatic check-out at the supermarket or another similar shop. But Amazon, one of the world’s leading companies in terms of technology, has introduced the brand new concept of a grocery store recently. You will not find any cashier at the first Amazon Go store in Seattle. For shopping in such a shop, you just need to download the app to your smartphone, activate it when entering the store and after you have made the shopping, you will be automatically charged when leaving the store.
The Amazon Go store is full of sensors which are able to trace what do you have in your shopping basket or which items you have returned to the shelves. All of these sensors provide perfect computer vision and are roofed by the AI with the ability to learn and to handle the whole are of the store which is about 1,800 square foot (167 square meters).
This example shows us what jobs will be in danger first. Less qualified workers doing some routine, still repeating activity can be handled by the automation better, faster and more reliable than any human being. But this will not stop here, even many lawyers, accountants and even doctors can be replaced by an automation. It’s easy to imagine a robotic MD collecting the necessary data, setting the diagnosis and prescribing medicine to a patient. In a near future, it can also do some basic surgery.
While there are already protests and some people are blaming Amazon and other companies introducing their AI-based services for increasing an unemployment, we should look into the history and find general rules which will probably apply to today’s situation. At first, the history tells us that if the technology exists and it is useful, it cannot be stopped. It’s inevitable that the AI will take over some portion of the jobs in the near future. However, there is another experience we have from the past. Whenever the new technology was introduced, it always added more jobs than it took away, at this moment, we are just not able to say what kind of jobs it will be.
As it was mentioned several times, we are probably witnessing the beginning of the new industrial revolution. The changes it will bring to our society will be big, its structure will change and some basic rules will have to reconsidered (very often, a universal basic income is named in connection with the upcoming changes in the labor market). On the other hand, it will bring the new opportunities. Whole industries will probably raise and will be looking for enthusiastic people. The new reality will soon become normal and the society will learn to exist in it until the moment when some new technology will bring another fundamental change and cause the new revolution in the industry and beyond.