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By Agent AI 13 Dec 2016

Artificial Intelligence | New Jobs, Not Less Jobs

Aaron Miller, Growth Engineer at
By Aaron Miller, Growth Engineer at

Right now, there’s a lot of talk about AI taking jobs away. I’m not here to dispute that. Hidden within that concern however, is an assumption that we’re all overlooking and that is simply this: we assume that all the work that needs doing is already being done. That is the same trap as believing that everything useful is being done already, as efficiently as possible, and that the tools with which to do those jobs have all been invented (or will be soon).

But if you unbundle your mind from the fears about losing your job, or on a larger scale, your place in society, you’ll be able to see that augmenting our abilities has, and probably always will be, been about furthering the productivity of an individual or a small team. True change always brings unforeseeable consequences. But as history shows, with new tools and technologies, new work that was previously unimaginable can replace old ways, and new industries and new jobs arise. This cycle repeatedly disrupts things, but somehow humankind pushes onwards. So long as we have empathy for the displaced, we will continue to survive, and to the extent that we share, thrive.

For example, think of the blacksmith. The industrial age morphed the job into a machinist. Instead of putting shoes on one horse, he machined pistons for engines that generated hundreds of horsepower for many more people. ATMs took the job of tellers, but also expanded the reach and total number of bank branches, which still require people to run them. Both areas retrained workers for new roles and enterprising people found work where demand was rising instead of declining.

Put another way, if you think about it, at any given moment in time, the useful work that needs doing is infinite. What is limited is our ability to do it. Another example, until it became possible for us to build bridges, we’d simply walk the long way around. That’s just the way it is you’d think. But once a bridge is built, you’re no longer able to imagine how you did without it. Then you use the shortcut to deliver food to more people faster or from farther away. This is the true promise of AI. Granted, the future is always unknown, but drawing reasonable analogies to the past give us less reason to fear it and more courage to embrace it.