Is That Robot Really Coming for My Job? (Animation Transcript)

Speaker A: I’m hearing a lot about AI and jobs lately. What’s going on?

Speaker B: Artificial intelligence has been around for 60 years, but today it’s doing things we never expected machines or software to do. We’re actually in a moment in history similar to when technologies like the steam engine and electricity were about to change everything. As AI goes mainstream, it has the potential to be an incredible tool for helping us improve the quality of jobs and the sustainability of workplaces, even as it’s changing them.

A: Well, that sounds great, but here’s what I want to know: Is that robot really coming for my job?

B: That’s a difficult question to answer right now, and there is no AI crystal ball. We do know that some workers have been and will be replaced by AI. But many observers agree that once AI goes mainstream, it’s more likely that jobs for humans will substantially change, rather than disappear.

A: Exactly what can AI do better than me? I mean, I’m pretty talented.

B: To answer that, we first need to understand what AI actually is. AI is a family of computer programs with the ability to take on specific tasks that otherwise would require human intelligence. It’s powered by algorithms, which are codes or sets of rules that tell a machine what to do. When a smart device tells you the weather or recommends a movie, that’s powered by AI algorithms. In the workplace, AI might be a welding robot in a factory or a product mover in a warehouse.

A: What that looks like to me is that a couple people are out of a job!

B: Not necessarily. Many key workplace tasks are beyond AI’s current capabilities. It’s true that AI excels at processing and getting insights from huge amounts of data. AI can also do more physically strenuous or hazardous work, and it doesn’t get bored, tired, or hungry. But very few jobs are at immediate risk of full automation, because humans still dominate in several key areas, including tasks involving frequently changing or unknown circumstances; creative and emotionally-loaded tasks; and tasks involving dexterity, particularly of the hands and fingers.

A: AI and human workers seem to have very different strengths. So I’m more likely to work with a robot than to be replaced by one in the next ten years or so?

B: From what we know so far, yes. In the immediate future it’s far more likely that humans and AI will work alongside one another. Things could change as AI evolves and as humans decide how we want to use AI, and that’s why we need to take a thoughtful and inclusive approach in this pivotal moment of its development. There will be challenges, but also plenty of opportunities for huge gains in productivity and efficiency that could improve things for workers and businesses everywhere.