9 Apr 2019Blog

AI and human obsolescence – what you should know

Solita's The Impact of AI report: Q&A Osmo Soininvaara

Any discussion about the future effects of AI on society inevitably comes back to one topic – employment. Are we heading towards a sci-fi dystopia, with unemployable humans made obsolete by AI? Automation will enhance productivity – but at what cost to those left behind by this shift? Whether one wants it or not, the change is coming. In a radically uneven world – it’s estimated that by 2030 the richest 1 per cent will own two thirds of the globe’s wealth – can AI be a force for good?

We asked Osmo Soininvaara, Chairman of the Artificial Intelligence Division in the Transforming Working Life Committee at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment of Finland, and contributor to our recent report The Impact of AI, what you should know about AI and human obsolescence

What kind of effect will the use of AI have on the future of work?

Artificial intelligence will change the descriptions of countless jobs. For many, it will mean learning to do the same job in a new way – for some it will mean that the job they used to have, does not exist anymore. Obviously, the effects will be more significant on some fields than others. For example, it is estimated that half of the jobs in the banking and insurance industry will disappear. AI will be making a lot more logical decisions on giving loans than bank managers – and same as with any automation; AI will work around the clock with no sick leaves or holidays.

On the contrary, some jobs will get easier. For example, taxi drivers in Helsinki used to have to take a test to prove they know where certain streets and addresses are located and how to get there the fastest. Nowadays navigators will show the fastest way and also let drivers know of traffic jams and road construction works. The same will happen with many jobs in the era of AI.

One probable consequence is also that the amount of easy work will decrease, and the amount of difficult work will increase. This might lead into a situation where we would rapidly need to re-educate a big part of our society. Otherwise the demand and supply will not match on the labour market.

How can societies prepare for these changes?

Learning and education will truly have to become a life-long journey. As part of our report on the effects of AI on employment for the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment of Finland, we stated that the minimum age limit for compulsory education should be 65 years – meaning that education should last throughout one’s career.

There is a real threat that the rapid changes in work life and job descriptions will cause some people to fall behind in their professional competence. This will cause imbalance on the labour market. Our committee’s suggestion for the Finnish parliament is to make a plan to guarantee one week’s worth of learning and educating for everyone within a year. This should help our workforce stay up-to-date and it would force companies to guarantee education for everyone – not just for the key players.

What are the positive effects that AI development will have on work life?

AI is the new electricity. And much like electricity, we cannot really know how AI technology will affect our future, since we are still in the early stages of development. When electricity was invented, no one knew, for example, that it could one day help in doing dishes faster and with less manual work. The same is true with AI – predicting the future is difficult.

One philosophical aspect to consider is: What are we going to do, if the efficiency of work increases rapidly thanks to AI solutions? Do we then come up with new things for us humans to do, or should we humans just do less work and let computers do more? I believe the latter is the goal we should be aiming for – even though it is extremely difficult, since the growth in efficiency will be more apparent in some professions and jobs than others.

Does anyone complain about dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and washing machines taking our housework? No. That is of course because no one loses their position or salary because of that. But still, I believe that in a good society it is possible to enjoy the fruits of AI without a rise in inequality.

Osmo Soininvaara is a former Minister and Member of the Finnish Parliament. He has been the Chairman of the Artificial Intelligence Division in the Transforming Working Life Committee at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment of Finland.

Impact of AI