The Millennial generation is often referred to as “digital natives” because we are the first generation who doesn’t know life without the internet and connected devices. Now, this does not mean everyone born between the late 1980s and early 2000s is a tech wizard, but I think it’s safe to say that digital has greatly influenced our lives and behaviors from our very first cry.
These days, I find it entertaining to ponder what the “next big thing” will be and how it will influence the generation born into it. One possibility, if only for the sake of a good read, could be artificial intelligence (AI), which has the potential to replace the human workforce.
If you are in the business of counting something, scheduling a campaign, pressing a button, or, in some cases, even producing content, you might be outsourced to an algorithm in as little as 36 months. Gartner predicts that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their enterprise relationships without interacting with a human. It also forecasts the availability of 2 billion zero-touch UIs, such as voice ambient technology, biometrics, movement, and gestures, by 2020 as well. Taking that a few steps further, many of the jobs our children’s children will have don’t even exist yet. Or there’s the distinct possibility they won’t have jobs at all.
The fact of the matter is, automation has already claimed quite a few jobs previously filled by human beings. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, which uses 2009 dollars to adjust for inflation, America has lost more than 7 million factory jobs since manufacturing employment peaked in 1979. Yet American factory production, minus raw materials and some other costs, more than doubled over the same span to $1.91 trillion last year. Additionally, a 2016 study at Ball State University's Center for Business and Economic Research found that the clear majority of the lost jobs—88 percent—were taken by robots and other homegrown factors that reduce factories’ need for human labor.
If you asked me a year ago what I thought of when I heard the words “artificial intelligence,” I would have pointed to Jarvis, Robert Downey Jr.’s voice assistant from the “Iron Man” movies. Now my answer is the Amazon Echo. Whether it’s chatbots used for customer support, Spotify or Pandora creating recommended playlists based off previously liked songs, your bank’s mobile app using voice or facial recognition, or even self-driving cars, AI is becoming much more prevalent in our everyday lives.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that humans inherently focus on improving their lives, and technology remains the tool for doing so. This brings us back to my earlier point about whether AI could replace the human workforce. An ongoing argument against it is that AI is not capable of certain emotional, relative, and cognitive tendencies that essentially make us human as opposed to robots.
Historian Yuval Noah Harari brings up some interesting counterpoints. “Organisms are algorithms,” he noted in his Ideas.TED.com article. “Every animal—including Homo sapiens—is an assembly of organic algorithms shaped by natural selection over millions of years of evolution. Algorithmic calculations are not affected by the materials from which the calculator is built. Thus, there is no reason to believe that organic algorithms can do things that non-organic algorithms will never be able to replicate or surpass.”
As I said before, we are not at this point—but that’s not to say we won’t get there. In the book “The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market,” published in 2004, MIT professor Frank Levy and Harvard professor Richard Murnane listed professions that would likely become automated. Truck driving, however, was one example of a job that couldn’t possibly be replaced by automation due to the unpredictable variables that occur on the road, such as weather, other vehicles, changes in elevation, etc. Yet here we are 13 years later: Google is testing self-driving cars, and Tesla has driving-assisted cars already on the road. This just goes to show how far we’ve come in the past few decades.
Whether AI is truly the next big thing, or something else, the words of Bill Gates should resonate among all marketers: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”
Note: Next week, Max Thorpe, along with Brian Wong, CEO of Kiip, and Maci Peterson, CEO of Second Thought, will be taking part in the panel discussion “Mobile Innovators: How Millennials Changed Mobile” at Adobe Summit 2017. (Click here to view the Summit agenda and register. Enter code CMDC17 for an additional $200 discount.)