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Will Artificial Intelligence Take Our Jobs? We Asked A Futurist

Less time on the menial, more time for the meaningful.

16/02/2017 6:23 AM AEDT | Updated 20/02/2017 3:25 PM AEDT

In 'Back To The Future', Marty and Doc travel in time from 1985 to 2015. In the fictional version of 2015 there's hoverboards and self-lacing shoes. While the latter happened IRL in late 2016, a lot of the film's other future predictions were a little off.

Though what's not too far fetched is the idea of robots, or artificial intelligence, working its way into our very real and ordinary lives in the not too distant future. Self-driving cars are already a thing, and that's only the beginning.

"Artificial Intelligence (or AI) is likely to do to white collar jobs like how machines have been doing blue collar work. In other words, just like our brawns have been digitised, so will our brains be," Anders Sorman-Nilsson, global futurist and TEDx speaker told The Huffington Post Australia.

Sorman-Nilsson is the author of Seamless: The Futurephile's Guide To Leading Digital Adaptation And Human Transformation. His book explores how life and business will change in the future and what can be done now to best adapt to that. A futurephile refers to someone who is open and excited about technology in the future, while a futurephobe is someone who is frightened of it.

"What we should more concerned about is not necessarily the exponential change in artificial intelligence or robotics, but about the stagnant response in human intelligence. For example, schools and universities are now preparing students for jobs that will no longer be in existence 10 years from now.

Kim Kyung Hoon / Reuters
Baidu, a Chinese web compnay -- one of the largest in the world -- dispays the robot Xiaodu. It's an artificial intelligent robot which has access to the company's search engine database and can respond to voice commands.

"On the flip side, adaptive, agile and creative humans will figure out how to partner with the machines and new forms of intelligence. For example, we can imagine a near future where Siri stops behaving emotionally unintelligently and instead fully replaces your executive assistant, marketing manager, and sales support," Sorman-Nilsson said.

Sorman-Nilsson says that while artificial intelligence will run the back office of your business, it is unlikely to be the front of your brand.

"Neo-luddites [those who are considered to be anti-technology] who prefer apathy, complacency or nostalgia will try to fight this next evolution of digital disruption, and will likely be left behind. Anything that can be digitised will eventually be digitised, so a key question for anyone seeking to scenario plan their future career to ensure their thinking remains attractive in 2027 is: what thinking skills can never be digitised?"

"Fundamentally human skills like entrepreneurship, strategic thinking, philosophy, team-building, creativity, empathy, emotionally intelligent leadership, counter-intuitive insights, and connected sales(wo)manship will have a premium placed upon them. In other words, less time pushing paper and doing menial stuff, and more time doing meaningful stuff," Sorman-Nilsson said.

Benoit Tessier / Reuters
Visitors look at a self-driving car by Google displayed at the Viva Technology event in Paris in 2016.
As for sectors that will undoubtedly be affected, banking is one of them.

"We do a lot of scenario planning with banks, which in many ways are really just technology companies with banking licenses. So, yes, in a cashless, paperless and seamless banking future, a lot of banking jobs will be lost to automation and artificial intelligence," Sorman-Nilsson said.

"What our simulations show is that one aspect to the debate around artificial intelligence that is frequently lost is the fact that AI and digitisation will impact certain activities in our everyday lives, such as marketing automation or robotic advice, but it may not fully remove the 50 percent of jobs that some pundits talk about. In the face of this, as humans we need to be a little paranoid about the exponential changes ahead -- enough so to move us into upgrading our thinking -- but not so much as to be paralysed."

Probing Sorman-Nilsson on if us laypeople should be afraid of this future, he says it all comes down to how we think.

"I see a correlation between what I term 'futurephobes' in my most recent book, who tend to posses a general technophobia which includes deep suspicion of artificial intelligence, and dystopic views of that same future. Disruption is a signal from the future that it is high time to adapt, and that smart investments in the right hardware and software, which includes your own thinking software, have to be made."

"To me it is astounding that in Australia we are so obsessed with bricks and mortar property, but we are less concerned with investments in our own intellectual property, and AI certainly raises the stakes to ensure our thinking remains future-compatible. If you think like a 'futurephile' you will see that AI will free up our time to do meaningful work -- a sales professional, rather than spending 30 to 40 percent of their day doing data-entry, can fit in more meaningful meetings with humans, and a financial adviser can focus on more actively helping their clients' fulfil their financial dreams by outsourcing some regulatory work to RegTech instead," Sorman-Nilsson said.

Rick Wilking / Reuters
An Avatar iPal robot for children, eldercare and retail applications is on show at CES in Las Vegas in 2017.
Does this future mean less and less face-to-face interaction? Are those hesitant right in that regard?

"While my mum, who is my toughest pro-bono client, tends to think of the future as digitally dehumanised, for a futurephile like myself, the future holds the promise of an even more human era," Sorman-Nilsson said.

"A future where we can connect more deeply with our loved ones because we are no longer punching spreadsheets. One where our artificially intelligent assistant locks in the most optimal price and payment terms for our family holidays based on our unique psychographics, budgets and interests while we sleep, and where we are freed up to meditate or rejoin the local football club because we are delivered from the stress of pointless paperwork and meaningless visits to the post office to prove our identities."

Sorman-Nilsson says that artificial intelligence will excel in the fields of big data -- like diagnosis, investment advice, personalised medicine, smart buildings, energy management, transport, logistics, engineering and accounting.

"This will mean that your 'left brain' might get some much needed support, while your 'right brain' will be able to flourish. But while the promise of AI is exciting, it will take a really good human sales(wo)man to make us really trust and buy into artificial intelligence."

In his role as a futurist, Sorman-Nilsson is looking forward to what's to come.

"As a global futurist and futurephile, one of the things that excites me about artificial intelligence is the death of procrastination -- anything 'left brained' that we avoided and delayed doing, like taxes, filing, travel expense coding, receipt management, and updating our calendars will be procrastinated on no longer. That in and of itself should sell you on the virtue of AI -- unless you of course derive a lot of pleasure from these activities, in which case I urge you to upgrade and diversify your thinking," Sorman-Nilsson said.

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