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Wanted: AI experts to build the robots that will replace them

George Nott | Feb. 10, 2017
Demand for high-level tech skills is booming — but for how long?

"If you think about the content of many technology jobs, they are easily replaceable by robots or computers and artificial learning," says Williams, who consults clients on the effect AI will have on the workforce.

PwC's own research shows that Robotic Process Automation alone - which sits on the "simpler more straightforward rules based processing of the AI spectrum" the company says - will affect 31 per cent of IT workers tasks within the next five years, second only to the manufacturing sector.

While starting on the low-skill "grunt work" of traditional tech roles, soon those AI systems will improve and take on higher-level tasks, Williams predicts.

"That band is going to move up over time, and it will be a higher and higher level skill of technology jobs. It may be this is a window where we need those skills to set the system up, but then the system also becomes self-sustaining," Williams says.

"It may be there's actually only a five, ten, 15 year window where we're setting up a new world, and then what happens to technology jobs after that?"

Robot, all too robot

"People have to wake up to the fact that in some cases, some jobs are going to disappear," says Walsh, who along with Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk last week was announced as a signatory of the Asilomar Principles on developing safe AI.

"The best applications perhaps are going to allow us to be superhuman and do our tasks much better, allow us not to have to do the mundane and focus on the more creative, strategic aspects of our jobs."

But not all AI experts working today will be suitable for a more strategic role, says Williams. To secure their futures, adds Williams, many of them will need to focus on what AI technology is not good at.

"Robots are notoriously bad at interacting with the environment and interacting with other human beings in providing services and experiences and care. And we're a long way away from robots coming up with new ideas, new products, new innovations," he says.

Once the AI-dominated "new world" is in place, a very different set of skills will be in demand, he adds.

"The roles that will prosper will be those that require us to respond to non-standard stimuli. Trades jobs, jobs that require working in a built environment. Or jobs that require intuition and innovation and some new, higher skilled technology jobs," Williams says.

"If you're in technology, and you can't up-skill to a higher skill technology job, you're going to need to shift to either an empathy, intuition, human care job, which may not - stereotyping now - suit some people who currently work in technology. Or move into a job where you are working face to face with customers, helping them solve their personal IT issues or tech issues."


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