20 Roles AIs Will Play in the Coming Boom

(Part Three of the Age of Cognition series)

Count on it. A lot of people are going to get very rich very quickly in the artificial intelligence boom on the horizon. The global market for AI is set to grow from € 700 million (or $959 million) in 2013 to € 27 billion (or $35 billion) in 2015, according to a report from the European Union.

Gemident Composite based on an interactive image recognition program. Author: Way4thesub at en.wikipedia

I don’t mean the Hal and Her kinds of artificial general intelligence (AGI) that inhabit our collective consciousness. Before those beasties are born, we will have weak AIs doing everything from ringing up your skinny jeans at the mall to customizing your health care to vying for your job. Here are 20 roles they’ll soon be, or already are, playing:

  1. Cancer Researcher: IBM’s Watson is being signed up to help save cancer patients’ lives by personalizing cancer treatments tailored to the specific DNA mutations that are causing the disease, according to FastCompany.
  2. Lawyer:  Contract law is especially vulnerable to being taken over by AIs. Futurist Karl Schroeder points to efforts such as the “Ethereum project, which uses block chains—the technology behind bitcoin—to create smart contracts.”
  3. Journalist: One recent study found that, in some ways, readers preferred NFL recaps written by software as opposed to people. The latter scored highly in the areas of being descriptive, informative, more accurate, trustworthy, and objective.
  4. Retail Worker: A lot of retail workers are going to lose jobs to robots. “I fully expect to see Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, Target, and other retailers making a very concerted effort to pursue the automated store in the next three to five years,” according to Doug Stephens, author of The Retail Revival: Re-Imagining Business for the New Age of Consumerism.
  5. Translator: Google Translate is, of course, already in this business. And such tools will get better and better as software increases its ability to recognize patterns and learn.
  6. Logistics Expert: Air Cargo World reports that artificial intelligence software can now keep track of all the shipments planned for a flight. Is a piece of cargo not going to be able to reach a particular flight on time? No problem. The AI can assess how much room that leaves on the plane and then fill that space. Logistic-managing AIs are already at work on the railroad industry.
  7. Adviser and Forecaster:  “AI algorithms can find patterns in factors that influence human behavior and decisions. As such, it provides consumers as well as decision-makers guidance in making their decision because it can better predict the future outcome,” reports SmartDataCollective. AIs can increasingly do everything from predict which customers will buy which products to make recommendations about movies and music.
  8. Information Broker: There are now AIs that learn from interactions among employees. They can help organizations understand how different flows of information interconnect and “can suggest relevant information to the right person at the right moment,” writes Mark van Rijmenam.
  9. Low-Skilled Worker: For decades, there have been certain relatively low-skilled jobs that couldn’t be automated or offshored to other nations. Bus drivers, food servers, delivery workers, basic caregivers: they may not be high-power jobs, but at least there was some level of job security. That will probably change as more versatile robots become capable of performing such jobs. “It’s going to decimate jobs at the low end,” Jerry Kaplan, an entrepreneur who teaches a class about AI at Stanford University, told Financial Times.
  10. Loan Officer: Based on a study conducted by Professors Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne of the University of Oxford in the UK, DailyFinance reports that loan officers are among the professions most susceptible to being handled by an AI. They predict that there’s a 98% probability loan officers will be replaced by algorithms.
  11. Receptionists and Legal Assistants: The Oxford study predicts that receptionists, information clerks, paralegals and legal assistants are also likely (96% to 94%) to lose their positions to AIs.
  12. Chef and Cook: It was a bit of a stunt, but at the South by South West Festival in Austin, IBM’s Watson teamed up with some chefs from New York’s Institute of Culinary Education to create new recipes based on inputs from Twitter users. Khaleej Times reports, “The Chef is augmented at the back-end by a treasure trove of information which includes in depth data about existing recipes, food chemistry, all the possible cooking styles, cuisines and peoples’ taste patterns. With this information Watson now uses its ‘programmed cognitive skills’ to generate a multitude of recipes.” Meanwhile, the Oxford study gives cooks at fast food restaurants an 81% chance of being automated.
  13. Code developer: Some experts argue that code development “will succumb to AI algorithms.” The idea is that programmers will become more like architects who take the components of AI and assemble them into applications. The resulting systems will be large and complex compared to those that are not built in this way.
  14. Collective Wisdom Synthesizer: The Wall Street Journal’s Digits reports that Facebook “wants to turn the massive amounts of information shared by its users into a database of wisdom.” The idea is to ask Facebook a question and it will answer it using the data that other users have shared along the way.
  15. Disruptor: In Tech 2014: Inspiring Disruption, Deloitte points to “cognitive analytics” as one of the key technologies that may soon become disruptive to the business status quo. The idea is to use a combination of AI, machine learning and natural language processing to make quick sense of the world to aid decision making. If you can get you AI to understand what and how you want to analyze something and then query it everyday language, it may become an awesome business tool.
  16. Jargon Generator: With AI on the move in tandem with a lot of other computer-related concepts (big data, predictive analytics, cognitive analytics, machine learning, etc.), expect to see a lot of business jargon generated in the next few years. Throw together a semi-arbitrary string of words such as “neural cognitive deep learning” and you’ve got some snazzy jargon with which to impress, befuddle and annoy your colleagues.
  17. Trainee: Want to know why Google’s cofounder Larry Page decide to purchase the AI firm Deep Mind? Largely because it can potentially learn on the job. In fact, it learned how to beat beat simple video games through the concept of reinforcement learning. When computers can learn on their own, rather than having everything directly programmed into them, they can become more like employees themselves, able to pick up new things through experience.
  18. Job Thief: By one estimate, AI could automate fully half of U.S. jobs over the next two decades. There’s nothing new about the idea that computers are stealing jobs, but the AI revolution will raise the decibel levels on the debate. Even experts at highfalutin schools such as Oxford and MIT are nervously eyeing a variety of scenarios. In the best case, the economy finds a new equilibrium in which people and machines learn to work productively together. Other scenarios, however, result in long-term disruption to the job markets.
  19. Sense and extra sense: AIs are increasingly able to give people who have lost certain senses, such as sight or hearing, the ability to regain aspects of those senses. The Atlantic reports, “Digital technologies are also restoring hearing to the deaf via cochlear implants and will probably bring sight back to the fully blind; the FDA recently approved a first-generation retinal implant.” A combination of technologies, including AI, may also be giving people a semblance of extrasensory perceptions, such as the ability anticipate when a loved one has a bad day. The idea is that these technologies can scan the external as well as the online environment, analyze and connect the data in those environments, and then make something like predictions of the future.
  20. Brain colonizer: A Wall Street Journal essay claims, “Brain implants today are where laser eye surgery was several decades ago. They are not risk-free and make sense only for a narrowly defined set of patients—but they are a sign of things to come.” There’s no telling exactly how a future brain-AI interface will work (embedded chips, nanotech, skullcaps?), but the possibilities will be tantalizing to many who want eidetic memories or larger working memories, characteristics often associated with genius.

These 20 roles are, of course, the proverbial tip of the iceberg, but they give us some rough idea of how the Age of Cognition is fast changing our socioeconomic landscapes.


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