They’re beating our best chess players, they’ve driving cars, and now they’re coming for our jobs.
The truth is that machines have been replacing manual, human labour for years now, but as we make further progress in the field of artificial intelligence we’re approaching what has been dubbed “a fourth industrial revolution”.
Number four would be the one with greater efficiency and cheaper means of production, but it would also mean massive job cuts.
BBC have done some digging, and before we go to the charts let’s set the scene:
Katja Grace, a research associate at the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, and her colleagues from the AI Impacts project and the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, have surveyed 352 scientists and compiled their answers into predictions about how long it may take for machines to outperform humans on various tasks.
Many of the world’s leading experts on machine learning were among those they contacted, including Yann LeCun, director of AI research at Facebook, Mustafa Suleyman from Google’s DeepMind and Zoubin Ghahramani, director of Uber’s AI labs.
Basically, these are people who know what they’re talking about. Depending on what sector you work in, this could be good or bad news:
If you want to look at that most distant figure, we’re talking about a 50% chance that in 120 years machines will have replaced the human workforce entirely.
Still, a closer look at that table isn’t really reason to dance in the streets:
While towel folders are safe for now, perhaps there is reason for truck drivers and retailers to consider their roles over the coming two decades. The researchers predict that AI could be driving trucks by 2027 and doing retail jobs by 2031.
The stereotypical retail assistant job – a friendly human to help you find a pair of jeans in a shop, and tell you how they look – is a role that requires complex physical and communication skills, and is probably safe for the moment.
But as more people shop online, AI in the form of bots and algorithms may be replacing other roles in retail far earlier than we might think, says [Jeremy Wyatt, professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham]. “Look at how many transactions we now do online that are largely automated – it is a significant proportion. And they are already using a reasonable amount of AI.”
Knowledge-intensive jobs like surgeons look to be safe for a good few years, with scientists predicting that machines could be turning out best-selling novels by 2049.
Katja Grace still believes that there are certain professions in which machines will never fully replace humans, though:
Grace believes the survey should serve as a reminder that the world is on the cusp of radical change: “I don’t think there are any tasks humans can do that AI will be technically unable to carry out.”
But she believes some roles may never be replaced by machines. A minister in a church, for example, might never be replaced by a robot if the churchgoers want a person to be in the role.
So in order to beat the future you have to believe in a book written thousands of years ago – go figure.
You can see more number-crunching, as well as a closer look at some of the jobs mentioned above, HERE.