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Robots and AI: What’s in store for our jobs?


May 30, 2023

Robots and AI: What’s in store for our jobs?

 

Astonishing, fast-paced developments in artificial intelligence are prompting managers to reflect on the future of work. A panel of experts came together to discuss this topic in “Robots and AI: Are We All Going to Lose Our Jobs?,” a webinar jointly presented by Executive Education HEC Montréal and La Presse.

Joé T. Martineau, associate professor at HEC Montréal, Alexandre Le Bouthillier, co-founder and partner at Linearis, an AI health fund, and Valérie Pisano, President and CEO of Mila – Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute, all agree that education and interdisciplinary work will be the key to fruitful human–machine collaboration in the workplace of the future. During their conversation with Stéphanie Grammond, Editor-in-Chief of La Presse, the three experts stated that, given the speed of recent developments and the fact that this digital transformation is far from over, it is understandable that people are worried.

 

Accelerated development

The rapid emergence of tools such as ChatGPT (Chat Generative Pre Trained Transformer) requires vigilance, according to Martineau.

“Generative AI is extremely powerful and was brought to market very quickly without any guarantees of reliability and or any safeguards against malicious uses such as disinformation, fraud, propaganda and terrorism.”

In fields such as health care, however, professionals and researchers would like AI development to progress even faster.

“In a way, we’d like to speed up the regulatory process so that new treatments don’t take an average of 17 years to reach the market. We’d like to shorten the timeframes while still acting within a specific framework,” said Le Bouthillier.

 

Labour shortage

Given current widespread labour shortages, Grammond asked whether AI could potentially be a “lifeline.”

“We will be living in a very different world 10 years from now,” replied Pisano. “The large-scale transformation of the market will require us to reinvent ourselves.”

She added that employees will have to plan their personal and professional paths differently.

“We will need to adapt more quickly, as jobs won’t stay the same for very long. Human resources professionals are already debating the usefulness of this or that job.”

 

Changes

But just how much will AI affect the job market? According to Martineau, the scenarios range from apocalyptic to optimistic.

“Somewhere between the visions of mass unemployment and instant adaptation is the more likely scenario of job loss accompanied by job creation. In its most recent report on the impact of AI on the labour market, the World Economic Forum forecast a net loss of 2% of jobs.”

Certain jobs, such as those involving manual work, are less likely to be impacted by AI, while tech positions will become increasingly important.

 

Training

According to Martineau, workforce retraining will be a major challenge in the coming years.

“An administrative assistant can’t become an engineer overnight,” she said. “It would not be good to lose people or create even more social inequalities with these changes to the labour market.” 

Le Bouthillier believes that all duties and work processes will have to be re-evaluated.

“In health care, for example, we can save lives by combining AI with other technologies. It’s a matter of properly managing the data and metadata produced by machines. This means we need to increase students’ digital literacy skills, no matter what field they’re in.”

 

Managers

So, “what should managers do during this revolution?” asked Grammond.

“If businesses are still relying on fax machines, there’s a problem,” said Le Bouthillier. “We need to rethink work processes by focusing on human–machine interfaces, in other words, mastering technology and digitizing information so that we can apply AI.”

Managers have thus far been enthusiastic about new technological developments. But Martineau stressed:

“We can’t focus only on the productivity gains with AI. Managers must also recognize the risks of these technologies. I recommend taking a big-picture view rather than a narrow perspective and thinking critically to avoid any wrong turns.”

 

Decisions

Pisano indicated that there are many choices related to AI to be made at this historic juncture.

“There’s a tendency to want to jump on board, but just because someone else is doing something, doesn’t mean you have to. It’s a matter of leadership, of having discussions within your company to make choices that are right for you. The chief technology officer shouldn’t be the only one making all the decisions. The whole team needs to be at the table, learning about their options, about what possibilities excite them. It’s very dangerous to have tunnel vision, where there’s a single person making decisions that others simply go along with.”

 

Canada and Quebec

Canada and Quebec rank fourth and seventh in the world in terms of AI research. That said, when it comes to the application of AI, we lag behind. Globally, there is a need for a code of ethics to regulate the use of AI.

“We can’t rely on private enterprises to self-regulate,” said Martineau. “It’s time for governments to establish rules and laws related to AI.”

 

Ethics

Le Bouthillier says the 10 principles of the Montréal Declaration for a Responsible Development of Artificial Intelligence pave the way for Canada to assume a leadership role in this area.

“In the medical field, more than 500 AI-enabled medical devices have already been approved in the United States. These algorithms aren’t perfect, but the idea is for them to learn from their mistakes, which is already happening in the U.S. and Japan.”

 

Disinformation

Though artificial intelligence may be here to stay, we will still need human beings to understand it and use it wisely.

“It will take time to train people,” said Pisano. “At a minimum, intelligent systems need to be able to distinguish between machine- and human-generated content. The potential for disinformation is almost endless.”

 

Interdisciplinarity

According to Martineau, interdisciplinarity is key in the human-versus-machine debate.

“Disciplines that are sometimes closed off from others must learn to work together. You have to speak each other’s language, be open-minded and develop more of a bird’s-eye-view understanding of the issues that organizations face.”

Le Bouthillier is similarly optimistic.

“We have to continue doing what we love. People often say that [AI] is too complicated. Well, we’ve taught courses to 12-year-old children, and they managed to program a tool that categorizes diseases. It’s easy to learn the basics of AI and figure out how it can be applied to your area of interest.”

Pisano concluded by paraphrasing the author Yuval Noah Harari:

“We will have to teach people how to learn and equip them with psychological tools that allow them to adapt to change throughout their lives.”

 

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