I’m hearing a lot of talk in the media about one of the hottest areas of tech right now: artificial intelligence or AI. As is usual in this stage in the technology (over) promotion cycle, AI is going to change everything. Its going to make our life better and its going to make our life worse. Which, as with most things, is probably true depending on what your life looks like at the moment. If I can’t drive and AI powered driverless cars become available, the world becomes a much better place. If I’m a legal assistant whose job disappears because AI does the job better and cheaper, then things don’t look so good.
One thing is for sure, if you’re starting out in a career or thinking of changing, it makes sense to think about how the technology will impact your career prospects in the medium term future. If that current or prospective career involves assessing large amounts of data and drawing conclusions from it, be concerned. You might say, how many jobs does that apply to? To which the response is: a lot. Driving for instance. Or Radiologists. Or even doctors. All of these jobs take a large number of data points and try to draw conclusions from it: is it safe to drive at this speed, is that car going to hit me, is that a tumour? It turns out humans are very good at processing large volumes of informations and drawing conclusions, but for a lot of jobs, AI will be better. Where the technology is less successful is where a lot of human interaction is required and where there are unpredictable scenarios (fashion anyone?). And as we’ve seen in the last 12 months, humans are less rational and less predictable than economics might suppose, so there going to be many fields in which human ingenuity, powered by AI, will achieve breakthroughs.
Most of the prognostication about where AI will make its biggest impact is based on where the technology COULD be applied, but I’m cautious about making bold promises as to where it will and where it won’t make an impact, for one simple reason: money. Most forecasters try to understand the technology and think of what it can be applied to, but the reality is that will have the biggest impact where people can make the most money and we don’t know that yet. Any new technology requires huge amounts of capital to make it stick and it will be a few years before we really know if autonomous cars (for instance) are a mainstream or just a niche application. The same is true for other applications. So I’ll avoid making predictions and instead settle for the easy way out of offering advice. Think of a career, chase your dream, but at leat give a small amount of thought as to whether the perfect candidate for that job could be a computer.