If you think Artificial Intelligence is cool but won’t really affect you, you haven’t been listening to Michael Chui.
“Our point of view is that there is no function, no industry, almost no role that won’t potentially be affected by this set of technologies,” says Chui, a partner with McKinsey Global Institute. ”Not just every occupation, but every activity within each occupation.
“It’s not just automating the labor that’s being done, but the work people do will have to change as well. Understanding how to take advantage of these technologies is going to be critically important.”
The leading global business publication The Economist is on the same page. “After 200 years, the machinery question is back”, its editors note in a special report.
Not that the last 200 years have been silent on the subject of how technological improvements have affected employment. In 1930 Keynes warned about “a new disease”, which he named technological unemployment, and which he described as:
“Unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour”.
Woody Allen’s version
Several decades later, Woody Allen came up with a translation. “My father worked for the same firm for twelve years,” he said. “They fired him. They replaced him with a tiny gadget that does everything my father does, only it does it much better. The depressing thing is, my mother ran out and bought one.”
So far in history, technology innovations have ended up creating as many jobs as they destroyed, if not more. But may it be different this time? With AI, not only manual or “simple” jobs are at risk of being replaced by machines. As a McKinsey report notes:
“Even the highest paid occupations in the economy, such as financial managers, physicians and senior executives, including CEOs, have a significant amount of activity that can be automated”.
It stands to reason, therefore, that the professional services of Executive Search and Leadership Development, although not to be included in the list of “highest paid occupations”, will be strongly affected by AI, if and when algorithms can make better hiring decisions than humans.
Are we special enough?
Maybe. But McKinsey consultants believe there might still be a future for humans in the labour market. As the report states: “capabilities such as creativity and sensing emotions are core to the human experience and also difficult to automate”.
A publication by the World Economic Forum goes a step further: “Overall, social skills – such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others… will be in higher demand”.
We can but hope. Besides the minor concern that Artificial Intelligence may yet wipe out the human race completely, perhaps there will be little niches of benefit for some of us in selected professions.
Or do you think executive search specialists will end up recommending machines?