AI: Impact on jobs

FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel O. Abalos (The Freeman) - September 19, 2020 - 12:00am

While the world, as a whole, is still reeling from the ill-effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), some tycoons in the country are continuing to expand their business empires. 

Two of these moguls are Ramon Ang (who successfully got the nod for his soon to be the country’s biggest and most modern airport in Bulacan) and Dennis Uy (who’s into a buying and leasing spree for lots for his telecommunication project). Both labor intensive (during construction period), these are two bright spots in a country where joblessness is at its worst.

If we have those bright spots, the more advanced economies have multiple start-ups that can, probably, dominate their respective industries globally in the future. Four of these start-up companies recently raised money in tens and hundreds of million dollars with ease. According to AngelList Weekly, these are Truepill (a telemedicine platform that enables delivery of prescription pills based in the USA) which raised US$75 million, Klarna (the Swedish online payments firm) which raised US$650 million, Airtable (the spreadsheet-centric database and no-code platform based in the USA) which raised US$185 million and Replicant (creator of autonomous AI or artificial intelligence deployed at call centers based in the USA) which raised US$27 million.

If we keenly examine these start-ups, we will all find out that these are all tech or tech-driven companies. Truepill plans to set up an “at-home lab testing network” which “allow doctors and patients to manage chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease without frequent visits to a clinic.” Klarna, is known for its “buy now, pay later” model and is expanding its “interest-free financing” on retail purchases. Airtable plans to launch more low code features so that users may be able “to build inside the platform without writing code.” Replicant is raising money for its “autonomous call center”.  Its AI bot (with a conversational and “human-like” voice) is touted to resolve simple issues over the phone.  While intricate issues are routed to a human agent, it was said that “the bot employs deep learning to understand the intricacies of humans’ sentences, and can fully resolve certain customer service inquiries.”

Of these four expanding companies, for us, job-wise, Replicant’s technology is really worth watching. For one, it is not the only company that develops AI bots.  This simply means, the supply of AI bots will soon inundate the BPO industry (call centers, in particular).  Therefore, our call center agents’ jobs will be at risk.

Well, we can always say, human intelligence is irreplaceable. Yes, that is quite accurate because bots can’t handle complex issues. The question, however is, how many do we need for jobs that require human intelligence. Remember, it is an undeniable fact that some of our call center agents are just handling repetitive tasks or transactional work. Concerns or tasks that can be easily undertaken by AI bots. 

Lest we forget, four years ago (2016), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) issued a policy brief (Policy Brief No. 50) entitled “Robots and Industrialization in the Developing Countries”. Among others, it stressed that “Increased use of robots in developed countries erodes traditional labor-cost advantage of developing countries.    Thus, it advised that “Developing countries need to redesign education policies and embrace the digital revolution – this approach should be combined with supportive macroeconomic, industrial and social policies.”

Indeed, the pace of change is remarkably fast.  So that, regardless of profession or occupation we are in, the need to embrace this development is paramount. We need to realize that in the coming years, intelligent systems will take all clerical and repetitious tasks from us.  We must further realize that these systems will even take over more and more decision-making tasks from us, humans.

Therefore, there is a need to exploit these powerful technologies. How? By, first, understanding it. Just like any tool we can find in our households, we can’t use it if we do not understand how it works and what it can do. We don’t have to know how it is being made. We only need to know their distinctive characteristics and how they can help solve real and pressing problems.

Admittedly, AI bots or systems are already powerful today and are capable of improving quickly. It can surely surpass us in many aspects. If there is any consolation, it is the fact that we are human beings. That we are emotional beings. That AI bots or systems can’t replicate that.

Therefore, what we essentially need to do now is to recognize the strengths and limitations of both artificial intelligence and human intelligence and find ways to work together.


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