Scepticism of innovation is as old as the ages, but it can empower our societies. It is still too often the case that new technology is met with doubt and hesitation. In 1995, renowned astronomer Clifford Stoll stated, “The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher, and no computer network will change the way government works”. Stoll, alongside others, misjudged human behaviour and our ability to adapt. We can learn from such statements by being open to new technologies such as blockchain technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Remaining open to addressing issues will enable us to more fully engage with the positive potentials and use them to increase productivity and creativity.
Fears exist about AI replacing humans, reducing the need for human labour and leading to mass unemployment. This apocalyptic outlook is unfounded. According to a study by PwC in 2018, AI will encourage a gradual and positive evolution in the job market and new jobs created by AI will balance out those that are lost. As with other major technological shifts, the increase in AI technology will boost productivity whilst changing the employment and business landscape. By eliminating the need for certain tasks, AI will increase the diversification of skills across industries. The automation of manual and repetitive tasks opens the workforce up to a deeper engagement with creative and soft skills, which are needed in every sector. This changing demand is slowly altering the shape of business — and an understanding of AI is among the skills becoming more valued.
Skills which will continue to be inherently valuable, and which are already rising in demand, include creativity, critical thinking, and empathy — which AI cannot offer. According to the World Economic Forum, soft skills such as these are among the top skills in demand by employers, and will continue to be so in the coming years, as their value will not decrease and they will not get automated. The financial sector will be very largely affected by AI, just as it was with the advent of computers, particularly in the realm of repetitive data tasks. While the first impact may be on the people in those roles, this will also open up the workforce to an increase in roles with a focus on soft skills, and interpersonal and creative competencies. In light of this, it is important that the focus shift from ‘job loss’ to ‘job diversification’.
In tandem with all of the progress and improvement, a shift to a more AI-based business model will inevitably engender some challenges and obstacles, not least the shift in mentality to embrace this technology. In the financial sector, challenges include micro and macro risks, which in turn could influence market stability, concentration, and connection. Across industries, the shift in skillset and education requirements will affect many workers and workflows, and in some cases will cause them to change employment. A further fear is that automation will heighten wage polarization and income inequality, as jobs with the possibility of automation tend to fall in the middle-ground, though this projection is based on current wage expectations, which of course have the potential to change. Despite these potential risks and challenges, the gains that most sectors would experience are undeniable, particularly in relation to automation of processes and expansion of the potential for broader creativity in tasks.
Most industries will see an increase in the use of AI as a means to improve and integrate select types of jobs and workflow, and this should be welcomed as a further step in the use of technology to simplify our lives. In simplifying many aspects of our lives, AI will free up our time that can be better used to develop the soft skills AI itself is not capable of honing. It is vital to focus our attention on the possibilities AI offers to widen the scope of workers’ daily activities and to improve productivity, as well as addressing any issues. In doing so we highlight and bring to light the potentials rather than limitations of a technology that is already on the scene, and is already proving its place there.
Despite the challenges, the benefits of emerging technologies are undeniable. We have already seen how, in an incredibly short amount of time, we have come to embrace the possibilities the internet has offered us, and leverage the technology to communicate, gather information, and simplify our daily activities. As with the introduction of the telephone, the internet, cashless payments, and most other innovations, when the masses are ready for it, adoption will happen and change is inevitable.