Are robots coming for your job? 

AI is coming, there can be no doubt… what matters is how we raise our game to benefit from what the robots bring to the table, says Rob Stokes.

The possibility of Artificial Intelligence (AI) outperforming humans on a range of tasks might seem like the stuff science-fiction is made of (remember Will Smith fighting service robots turned bad in ‘I, Robot’?), but the truth is it’s very real. Well, not the part where they turn bad.

In fact, the rise of AI is growing much faster than people might expect. This is according to Rob Stokes, Chairman of the Red and Yellow Creative School of Business in Cape Town.

What does this mean for the future of jobs? In South Africa, unemployment is currently at 26.7% – more than a quarter of the population, while the youth unemployment rate in the country has averaged at just over 50% since 2013.

Rob Stokes, Chairman of Red & Yellow Business School

“Unemployment is reaching an exceptionally negative tipping point and AI is going to make that so much worse,” says Stokes. “This is no longer up for debate, AI can already do a number of jobs better than humans and, within the next generation, this is going to grow exponentially.”

There are numerous studies on how AI will affect various careers spanning from accounting and finance to law, medicine and sales. Some jobs might simply become a thing of the past entirely. In ten years, will we still have cashiers at till points? Will telemarketing calls have a real voice on the end of the line? Will an actual person come to your office to assist with IT support? It seems unlikely.

A report in the United States, compiled by National Public Radio, found that in the accounting and financial industry, for example, the chance of having jobs automated stood at 97.6% for bookkeepers, 93.5% for accountants and auditors, and significantly lower at 23.3% for financial analysts. However, in some ways AI serves to assist and improve various industries. In the event planning industry, for example, there are many tools that can benefit the industry.

Eventbrite and Event Manager Blog, believing that AI will play a “pivotal role” in growing events and give a “competitive advantage”, even host a webinar on “The Rise of Artificial Intelligence in Events”.

Event planning is one industry listed as secure in the face of AI, in fact, joined by a host of management roles and jobs in writing, graphic design, and software development, among others. Management and creative industries are statistically safest, at this stage, because, as Stokes explains: “What is the last thing robots would be able to do? Deliver creative thinking and ideas.”

“What is the last thing robots would be able to do? Deliver creative thinking and ideas.” – Rob Stokes, Red and Yellow Creative School of Business.

Management requires the evaluation of goals and consequences, while creativity is required for the setting of goals and strategising ideas. Many things in-between could theoretically be automated.

“You don’t always need a human to move the needle. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What humans do best is dreaming, freewheeling, empathising and thinking creatively,” Stokes elaborates.

What does this all mean for education? Stokes believes that South Africa needs urgent action in this regard as he has not heard sufficient intent on leveraging technology to maximise education possibilities.

“Not only is our education system still teaching the skills of the 20th Century, most of which are fast becoming redundant, but we are teaching with the approach of the 19th Century. We cannot hope to fix our dire education problem by throwing more resources at the same old solution. Technology has given us the ability to multiply the impact of education in ways never before possible. With clever thinking and bold decisions, we could dramatically improve the impact of our education budget,” explains Stokes.

“The irony is that AI can be incredibly beneficial to the education sector, while simultaneously decreasing job opportunities. But we must ensure young people entering the workforce are geared up with the skills they need to thrive in a digital world. The world of work is going to be very different for them. They need to be learning the uniquely human skills which will give them a platform on which they can build any career.”

“What humans do best is dreaming, freewheeling, empathising and thinking creatively.” – Rob Stokes, Red and Yellow Creative School of Business.

But, he says he does not currently see this kind of thinking anywhere in South African Government.

A Stanford University-led study found that many young people believe that AI as a key aspect of their future, with many choosing to study the subject at university. It also found that employers are increasingly looking for candidates with skills in the field. The inaugural report, which is part of Stanford’s One Hundred Year Study on AI (AI100), aims to “facilitate an informed conversation about AI that is grounded in data”.

It also notes that: “Without the relevant data for reasoning about the state of AI technology, we are essentially “flying blind” in our conversations and decision-making related to AI.”

Stokes believes that there are many jobs that simply cannot be taken over. The best teachers, he says, have empathy – and that cannot yet be programmed.

“Technology certainly won’t replace teachers, but it can make them more efficient and effective and with that, we can create more affordable education opportunities,” he adds. “In the process, we could help our workforce and become globally competitive. We have to adopt a new paradigm in how and what we teach – ensuring we are teaching the skills of the 21st century and not of the past.”

If you’d like to check if your job is safe, can tell you the statistical likelihood of your job being taken over by AI according to data collated in the US.

But, ultimately, Stokes concludes: “Artificial Intelligence is going to be best thing for us, globally, as long as it doesn’t enslave us.”