AI will replace your doctor before it replaces your carpenter

People are increasingly starting to realize that cognitive computing, artificial intelligence and smart machines are rapidly evolving to a point where they (i.e. machines) will be able to do much of the jobs that we (i.e. humans) currently do. Most people in technology and academia are in agreement that this is happening but there is no agreement around which jobs specifically will be replaced and when.

Some experts speculate that jobs that require emotional intelligence will continue to be jobs “for” humans. Others argue that jobs that require creativity will be the differentiating factor. While still others claim that STEM jobs are the ticket for a well paying and secure job in the future.

My prediction is that most of these predictions will be wrong. I say this because I think that we are all going to quickly realize that it is going to be a much easier task, and will happen faster, to create a machine, or a software algorithm, to “think” like a human then it is going to be to create a machine that is able to think and “move” like a human. In other words, AI will replace our doctors before it replaces our carpenters.

If in 15 years I am still interacting with a human for more than 5% of my medical care I will be completely dumbfounded. The same goes for financial planning, legal advice and all of the other so called “knowledge work” services that represent most of the high paying jobs of today. And conversely I will be just as surprised if in 20 years I am able to hire robots to build a new addition for my home.

I think that the problem with many of the predictions being made is that those who are making the predictions, (i.e. highly educated humans), are coming to their conclusions with a tremendous amount of built-in bias. Our society places the greatest value on work that is hard for us to do. Going to medical school is hard because it requires a significant amount of learning and because of this few people are able to complete the work and those that do are rewarded financially. But Artificial Intelligence (once and if achieved) will not find “learning”, storage and recall if you will, of facts and figures hard. In fact, it will be able to store and recall every single relevant piece of knowledge ever digitized and will be able to do that in the time it takes a calculator to multiply 23987 x 776483.

So the mental maps we have developed as individuals, and as societies, about what is hard to do and what is easy do not apply to a world full of intelligent machines. Our mental maps tell us, because it is what has happened in the past, that advances in technology will first eliminate “low level” jobs and then will eventually, if ever, work its way up the food chain. But this is a faulty assumption based on mental maps that were created before we had/have true visibility into “what can be”. I go into this a lot in my recent book, but suffice it to say, that a great analogy are the maps the intellectual elites used in Europe just prior to the discovery of the New World. That discovery forced everyone to change the maps that they had developed over centuries.

I don’t want to discount the impact that robots will have on manual labor. Robots will take over many manual jobs but for the near future that will only happen to jobs where the tasks are brought to the robot (i.e. assembly lines) or where the environment is designed to allow a robot on wheels to go and retrieve items (i.e. Amazon’s warehouses). In other words, in environments that do not require the kind of physical dexterity that humans do so well.

I could be wrong, but I truly believe that Artificial Intelligence will completely take over the financial services and investment advice industry long before intelligent robots will be able to compete against, and beat, a human on the TV show Survivor.

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