Artificial Intelligence will Replace Tasks First, Not People

Robots serving food at a restaurant in China

The ongoing dialogue about whether or not artificial intelligence will take away jobs and replace people has been going on for a while now. But what a lot of people are ignoring is the fact that robots will never be able to replace humans. They might replace tasks that are easily automated or even jobs that are basically task-oriented or repetitive. However, they will never be able to replace jobs where the personal element is key.

Japan artificial intelligence bear robot nurse assistant Robear
Japan has created an artificial intelligence robot bear called “Robear” that acts as a nurse’s assistant

Let me give you an example. Nursing is a thankless job that requires tireless effort, standing and walking around all day, dealing with cranky patients, doing crazy shifts, being ordered around by doctors and specialists… if you’re a nurse you’ll know what I mean. From a purely tasks and activities perspective there are numerous areas that can be taken care of by automated systems or artificial intelligence programs. However, the human touch that makes nursing the noble profession that it is can never be replaced.

Similarly, there are several jobs where the tasks themselves might be replaceable but the people are not. And that’s the point I’m trying to get at.

On the other side of the argument there are those who will say that some jobs are primarily made up of organized or repetitive tasks that don’t involve the human element, and that’s a valid point as well. Shifting boxes in warehouses, providing librarian services, paralegal services and such jobs are going to be replaced without a doubt. There’s hardly a human element involved, and the tasks can be done more efficiently and often cheaper than hiring humans.

But this isn’t a new phenomenon. Automation has been replacing tasks long before artificial intelligence came into being. It’s a centuries-old thing from the time of the industrial revolution. Jobs have been lost, and they will continue to be lost to automation. But artificial intelligence is completely different from mere automation. And that’s why the fear and panic about job losses because people don’t yet understand what AI can and cannot do.

How Will Artificial Intelligence Impact the Workforce?

The bulk of human jobs aren’t going to be replaced because there’s is currently no artificial intelligence software or robot in the world that can yet replace a human being. Wherever that human touch or human interaction is required, those jobs are very safe.

Let’s go back to librarians for a minute. According to a Fast Company report, studies show that librarians are now becoming “research mentors” who help kids how to use mobile apps, stream educational content, download eBooks and so on. It’s far less likely that such jobs will be replaced now because it involves the human touch, teaching, etc.

At the San Francisco Public Library, one social worker is now helping homeless people find resources they need, such as food stamps, legal information to help them understand their rights and many other things. Her name is Leah Esguerra and she is believed to be the country’s first “library social worker.”

The job that Esquerra does is certainly a valuable one, and she has helped several people get back on their feet – such as Henry, her assistant who was formerly homeless but is now a health and safety assistant doing what Esquerra has trained him to – attempt to get homeless people the medical, financial and legal help they need to get back on their feet.

I’m telling you this because there’s a human side to most jobs. They’re not all as socially extreme as helping homeless people stand up for themselves, but if your job involves dealing with people, mentoring them, managing them and leading them, you aren’t likely to be replaced.

The fact is, artificial intelligence will primarily start replacing tasks and activities, not humans. Despite what science fiction movies have been telling us for years, machines aren’t going to destroy human life – or in this case, livelihood. Automation is a fact of modern life and we have to learn to deal with it. Artificial intelligence, however, is only now making its presence felt on a large scale.

There’s no doubt our jobs will evolve, gradually including higher levels of human skills that aren’t yet replicable by machines. Some jobs will most certainly be replaced. But most will be taken to the next level, and that’s what you need to do in order to keep your job. Acquire new skills now before you’re forced to. Get to the point where your tasks and activities on the job may be replaced, but you cannot. That’s what real job security is about these days.

ALSO SEE: Is Your Job Artificial Intelligence-Proof? Here’s a Checklist to Find Out

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