Robocalypse now! Machines are taking away our jobs!

Last week I was fortunate to attend the MIT Work of The Future conference in London, thanks to BT and Steve Cunningham for hosting. The speakers in attendance were each thought provoking and engaging in their own right. The content genuinely igniting healthy debate both within the Marshall Wolfe Office and with our customers.

Although difficult to summarise the scale of the event in a blog post, there were definite themes running throughout:

  • Augmented Humanity – most solutions we are seeing from AI are helping humans perform roles more efficiently rather than necessarily replacing individuals
  • For roles that are lost we simply don’t know what the new roles humans will take on might look like (40% of UK jobs in 1900 were in Agriculture, today it is less that 2%. But in 1900 we could not anticipate, for example, the role of SEO). Perhaps the pace of change is more concerning than our example of over a century ago?
  • Several suggested that there will be a definite increased need for Ethicists and Philosophers to help shape solutions.
  • There are some serious challenges around social injustice in what appears to be a more fluid workplace. The professional gig economy might well suit consultants of all descriptions who can fit stints of high paid work around lifestyle choice. However, uncertainty around work patterns and income are a harsh reality for lower paid workers who need a regular income to secure accommodation and maintain an acceptable standard of living.
  • Anyone who has ever shouted at or asked pleading questions of a SatNav will also know that we are already blurring the lines between human and machine. Fascinating research from Monideepa Tarafdar on this topic: Perceived Role Relationships in Human-Algorithm Interactions: The Context of Uber Drivers

We heard a heart-warming success story from Ed Jakeman – Director of UK Voice & IP – BT
Having supplemented a team of talented and highly experienced Design Engineers with a Machine Learning Solution to cope with scale, Ed’s Team were left with a set of new problems to solve. These problems required a new set of skills. How to cope with the anomaly puzzles? The answer: to embrace neurodiversity and partner with The National Autistic Society to secure Talented individuals with particular skills sets aligned to this type of problem solving.

This example certainly demonstrates Augmented Humanity (with Machine Learning to help with scale). Interestingly, with the determination of certain individuals it has also created the opportunity to be more ‘human’.

AI in the work place is certainly not employment Armageddon, but it is (currently) our choice – it is (currently) us who can apply the rules, boundaries and put the ethics in place.


Speakers included: Elisabeth Reynolds, Rob McCargo, Vincent Maret, Philip Stiles, Monideepa Tarafdar & Ed Jakeman

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