Adopting and Leveraging AI Tools

By Kai-Fu lee

As I mentioned in my previous post, the private sector will be where AI can become humanized. One profession in particular, medicine, may lead the way. Similar synergies will emerge in many other fields: teaching, law, event planning, and high- end retail. Paralegals at law firms could hand their routine research tasks off to algorithms and instead focus on communicating more with clients and making them feel cared for. AI-powered supermarkets like the Amazon Go store may not need cashiers anymore, so they could greatly upgrade the customer experience by hiring friendly concierges like the one I described in an earlier blog.

For those in professional sectors, it will be imperative that they adopt and learn to leverage AI tools as they arrive. As with any technological revolution, many workers will find the new tools both imperfect in their uses and potentially threatening in their implications. But these tools will only improve with time, and those who seek to compete against AI on its own terms will lose out. In the long run, resistance may be futile, but symbiosis will be rewarded.

Finally, the internet-enabled sharing economy will contribute significantly to alleviating job losses and redefining work for the AI age. We’ll see more people step out of traditional careers that are being taken over by algorithms, instead using new platforms that apply the “Uber model” to a variety of services. We see this already in Care.com, an online platform for connecting caregivers and customers, and I believe we will see a blossoming of analogous models in education and other fields. Many mass-market goods and services will be captured by data and optimized by algorithms, but some of the more piecemeal or personalized work within the sharing economy will remain the exclusive domain of humans.

In the past, this type of work was constrained by the bureaucratic costs of running a vertical company that attracted customers, dispatched workers, and kept everyone on the payroll even when there wasn’t work to be done. The platformatization of these industries dramatically increases their efficiency, increasing total demand and take-home pay for the service workers themselves. Adding AI to the equation—as ride-hailing companies like Didi and Uber have already done—will only further boost efficiency and attract more workers.

Beyond the established roles in the sharing economy, I’m confident we will see entirely new service jobs emerge that we can hardly imagine today. Explain to someone in the 1950s what a “life coach” was and they’d probably think you were goofy. Likewise, as AI frees up our time, creative entrepreneurs and ordinary people will leverage these platforms to create new kinds of jobs. Perhaps people will hire “season changers” who redecorate their closets every few months, scenting them with flowers and aromas that match the mood of the season. Or environmentally conscious families will hire “home sustainability consultants” to meet with the family and explore creative and fun ways for the household to reduce its environmental footprint.

But despite all these new possibilities created by profit-seeking businesses, I’m afraid the operations of the free market alone will not be enough to offset the massive job losses and gaping inequality on the horizon. Private companies already create plenty of human-centered service jobs—they just don’t pay well. Economic incentives, public policies, and cultural dispositions have meant that many of the most compassion-filled professions existing today often lack job security or basic dignity.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that home health aides and personal care aides are the two fastest growing professions in the country, with an expected growth of 1.2 million jobs by 2026. But annual income in these professions averages just over $20,000. Other humanistic labors of love—stay-at-home parenting, caring for aging or disabled relatives—aren’t even considered a “job” and receive no formal compensation.

These are exactly the kinds of loving and compassionate activities that we should embrace in the AI economy, but the private sector has proven inadequate so far at fostering them. There may come a day when we enjoy such material abundance that economic incentives are no longer needed. But in our present economic and cultural moment, money still talks. Orchestrating a true shift in culture will require not just creating these jobs but turning them into true careers with respectable pay and greater dignity.

Encouraging and rewarding these prosocial activities means going beyond the market symbiosis of the private sector. We will need to reenergize these industries through service sector impact investing and government policies that nudge forward a broader shift in cultural values.

Posted by Dr. Kai-Fu Lee on May 16, 2019 in All Posts AI and You

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