Posted by on April 10, 2018

A reputable accounting firm says 40 percent of jobs in the US will be taken over by automation and AI and that people all across the job market will be effected. Their warning to government and individuals: “Education and retraining is critical to adapting to new technologies”. Which means, people are going to make a lot of money keeping  people educated. How will those costs be borne? And who will bare them?

The report isn’t a doomsday missive. I found it quite balanced. Which is what I’d expect from the top accounting firm. What’s most interesting from Copiosis’ perspective is how this accounting firm suggests human challenges of AI advancement be handled.

The most obvious implication of our analysis is the need for increased investment in education and skills to help people adapt to technological change throughout their careers. While increased training in digital skills and STEM subjects is one important element in this, it will also require retraining of, for example, truck drivers to take jobs in services sectors where demand is high but automation is less easy due to the
importance of social skills and ‘the human touch’. Governments, business, trade unions and other organisations (e.g. the NHS and social care providers in the UK) all need to play their part here in helping people to adapt to these new technologies. This will include training and retraining people in softer skills, such as creativity, problem solving and flexibility. On-the-job training will be important here, for example through degree apprenticeships that offer a mix of theoretical study and practical experience, and that are open to a wide range of people (including mature students) to promote social mobility.

Interestingly the report offers Universal Basic Income as one tool governments can use to ease unemployment strains and help governments cope:

However, governments do have a key role in making sure that the great potential benefits from AI, robotics and related technologies are shared as broadly as possible across society. As well as investing more in education, training and retraining, and protecting workers rights through appropriate legislation, governments should consider using the tax proceeds from technology-driven growth to strengthen social safety nets for those who lose out from automation.

Universal basic income (UBI) is one idea that has been discussed here. The case for this remains to be proven, but it makes sense for governments to gather evidence from pilot schemes and microsimulation models to inform future decisions on this and other options for sharing the benefits of technology more widely across society. Optimal solutions here may involve combining different ideas (e.g. UBI-type schemes with a degree of conditionality related to working, learning, training, caring or doing some other form of socially valuable activity to qualify for such benefits).

It’s interesting UBI is being mentioned in such an authoritative report produced by a top accounting firm. To me, it shows how seriously entities are looking at this issue. It also illustrates the lack of solutions out there for handling the impacts.  There will be a day in the future where Copiosis is similarly mentioned. As UBI illustrates, it’s just a matter of time.

Here are some interesting charts and graphs illustrating AI employment (or unemployment) implications (Credit: PWC):

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Percentage impact on jobs across nations

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Industries most vulnerable

Business and economic impacts are highly beneficial

If you ignore the human implications, AI and automation will have HUGE benefits for companies and the economy. It will reduce operational costs and greatly increase productivity across many industries. For this reason, I think it’s fair that the report urges readers that the AI boom is a boon for humanity. It should therefore be pursued.

…Automation opens up a range of opportunities for businesses. Directly, this includes the ability to collect, store and analyse data at a scale and speed that will allow firms to drive cost efficiencies and improve the quantity and quality of their products. Indirectly, businesses across the economy could benefit from increases in demand created by higher productivity growth and the positive spill-over effects of industry wide digitisation.

So there’s no stopping the train. Which means, to me that the future is going to press the human issue: How do we keep people gainfully productive and engaged in the social fabric of human societies? I think this report goes a long way in clarifying the path.

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