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The challenges for employment posed by artificial intelligence

Léa Grillon
16 / 07 / 2018

Could I lose my job to a machine? This is the great 21st-century fear that sparks debate and raises many questions. But this fear isn't new, far from it in fact! People were already worried that machines were going to take their jobs back in the days of the Roman Empire. Some workers even jammed building machines to stop them from stealing their jobs. Today the machines have certainly changed.  In addition to taking over certain tedious tasks, they have also become intelligent. Oh dear...Practical and intelligent? AI, or artificial intelligence, is like the brand new striker on a football team: faster, more physical, and, as if that were not already enough, it’s a quick learner, too.

“The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes.” – Stephen Hawking


Destructive AI?

It is expected that by 2025, many jobs will be threatened by this new algorithmic power. While this new labour force includes jobs such as after-sales professionals (voice recognition) among its victims, some studies predict that it will also wipe out many other professions in its path.

So who’s next on the list? Manual and other trades that don’t require workers to be highly skilled will undoubtedly be the next jobs to be automated.

Highly skilled occupations won't suffer from unemployment problems, but will be affected in a psychological sense:

  • Overwork linked to handling complex tasks: problem-solving
  • Work intensification: reduced labour force
  • Less communication: transfer of skills in danger of disappearing
  • Do we really need to raise the alarm?

Do we really need to be worried about growing algorithmic intelligence? While these machines are capable of learning, they also have limits and their technologies need to be improved on a daily basis. For it is of course human beings who will have to tackle the design of these machines which so scare the labour market. Who are these human beings? They are engineers, microprocessor designers, geneticists, physicists and astrophysicists. And their numbers are growing and growing. Therefore AI wouldn’t destroy jobs but would substantially alter the employment landscape by stimulating the creation of highly qualified positions requiring advanced technical skills.

AI as a facilitator

Far from a "Blade Runner"-style scenario, AI shouldn't be a source of anxiety for today's workers. Rather than just replacing jobs, it enables the design and emergence of new products and services that facilitate and improve working conditions for thousands of employees.

A machine can't act alone without human intelligence behind it. If error is said to be human, AI is faced with three major problems: error, learning bias and explainability! The idea isn't to fight against an AI that could replace humans, but to try and find alternative ways of working, with humans that are able to “collaborate” with facilitating machines.

According to the economists Brynjolfosson and Mcafee, we are entering the “second age of machines”. Machines enable us to go beyond our physical limits thanks to mechanical energy, transport and communication. Today, with AI, we are finally able to go beyond our intellectual limits, with quicker thinking, more precise actions and effective decisions.

Automation as a factor for economic development

The job market has many more surprises in store for us! If new jobs that we have never even dreamt of are about to be created, they will require skills that are much more advanced. Humans have a natural ability to adapt, which they will have to demonstrate in order to remain competitive in a changing market.

Gains achieved by automating certain tasks help to re-inject value into the economy and therefore boost employment. Today, we can see that the most automated regions[1] have almost zero unemployment:

  • Singapore à 2.1% for 5.6 million inhabitants
  • South Korea à 4% for 51.25 million inhabitants
  • California à 4.3% for 39.54 million inhabitants


The organisation of work will undergo a major upheaval and workers’ skills will be much sought-after, which will lead to new professions being developed and an emphasis on transferable skills such as creativity and risk-taking.

[1] World Bank Development Report (2016)



« La guerre des intelligences » Laurent Alexandre

« Le seigneur des robots : et si l’intelligence artificielle nous rendait plus humains ? » Arnaud de Lacoste

« The industries of the future » Alec Ross

Article by Pew Research Center


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