The rise of artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning may benefit the world in spectacular ways—but as many pundits have noted, such advances could come at significant cost.
If you’re someone like Elon Musk, you fear that the rise of machines will create a doomsday scenario right out of the “Terminator” films. But many economists and pundits think the actual consequences will involve casualties of a different sort: as increasingly intelligent systems take on more responsibilities traditionally left to humans, industries such as customer service and manufacturing could suffer massive job losses.
Earlier this year, a pair of Boston-area economists crunched some datasets and concluded that when robots are introduced, human wages decline. “Bottom line: Robots do replace workers,” read Bloomberg’s article on the study. “On the other hand, some industries that don’t automate end up losing workers anyway, because their costs are too high and their customers go elsewhere. For workers, robots are only part of the problem.”
With all that in mind, here are five tech jobs that could see the biggest impact from A.I.
Customer Service and Tech Support
In 2016, Facebook unveiled chatbots for Messenger. Over the past year, the social-networking giant has sought to improve the program, adding both features and a “bot store” modeled after traditional app storefronts. But that hasn’t necessarily improved the functionality of the bots themselves: According to a February article in The Information, bots on Facebook Messenger could fulfill only “about 30 percent of requests with human agents” during testing.
Despite that very public debate over the effectiveness of bots, other companies have plunged into the arena with their own toolkits and products. Microsoft, for example, has its own bot service, which includes a “bot builder” on GitHub.
Giant tech firms’ interest in bots means that the software will no doubt improve—and that could end up having a huge impact on customer service, currently the target of much bot functionality. In theory, a sophisticated bot could service the vast majority of service requests, negating the need for massive call centers stuffed with people. Tech support could end up affected, as well.
If you’ve been paying attention to artificial intelligence in the news, you’ve doubtlessly read stories about A.I. platforms beating out human champions at games such as Go. That is a very big deal, as it suggests software can execute effectively tasks that require creativity and improvisation.
And if you create software for a living, you know that creativity and improvisation are the bedrock of your profession. It’s easy to imagine a future in which A.I. and automation have taken over many of the tasks associated with building and maintaining software—at which point, at least a subset of developers may find their jobs at risk.
The maintenance of IT stacks is one of the most critical jobs in tech. As businesses tighten budgets and look for ways to save money, though, executives will begin asking for automated solutions. In the corporate view, the fewer bodies needed to maintain uptime, performance, and security, the better.
Startup firms seeking to merge A.I. research with enterprise security have attracted funding of late, including Darktrace, which recently raised $75 million. Google is also developing A.I. that can tackle malware and exploits in app stores—a vital service for any company looking to manage what its employees download.
If A.I. can handle security and other aspects of IT maintenance, it could reduce the overall need for sysadmins—forcing at least some tech pros currently in the role to specialize in order to stay ahead.
In comments to Bloomberg last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook seemed upbeat about the place of advanced manufacturing in the U.S. economy. “The likelihood of robotics absorbing an assembly-type thing fairly quickly is high,” he said. “But in advanced manufacturing, there’s going to be a lot of jobs.”
Whereas the factories of yesteryear required hundreds of people working in shifts, modern ones are more like machines that build other machines. Tesla’s Gigafactory, an enormous facility in Nevada that will employ as many as 10,000 people at full capacity, also relies on an army of highly advanced robots.
That’s not to say that machines will entirely replace the human role in advanced manufacturing, but the increasing sophistication of automated platforms means that robots will only become more capable of churning out products faster than people. As with sysadmins, that means people who work in advanced manufacturing will only need to become more specialized if they want to succeed in the A.I.-influenced marketplace.