The rise of artificial intelligence has inspired enthusiasm about the potential for benefits to humankind in terms of medical advances and other scientific achievements. But at the same time, it has created fear as well -- could these AIs go rogue and become evil? Or, more likely, could they learn to perform the tasks that humans are now paid to do and thereby eliminate jobs?
The potentially negative aspects, particularly the one about jobs, have commanded a lot of attention over the past few years. For instance, when a top consulting firm issues a report that says AI and automation could eliminate 73 million US jobs by 2030, that's a sobering figure.
The headlines may scream about the jobs eliminated, but there's potential for jobs to be created as well, as that McKinsey report also states (but USA Today doesn't quite fit that part into the headline). In fact, that article states in the first paragraph that "economic growth, rising productivity and other forces could more than offset the losses."
Those positive factors around AI and automation are the focus of a new report from Village Capital that is part of a larger effort by the specialty venture capital firm to nurture and promote initiatives around preparing the workforce for new job opportunities for a new era. The paper, released this week by Village Capital, follows an event on June 12 together with the Autodesk Foundation that gathered experts in the field to discuss startups, AI, and automation's potential for positive impacts on the workforce.
"The narrative is that AI is going to destroy jobs, but we have seen that certain AI solutions will actually help create new jobs, help up-skill workers, make them safer, and free them up to do more high-level and more creative tasks," said Marissa Lowman, head of the education practice at Village Capital in an interview with InformationWeek.
Lowman said that this focus of Village Capital's education practice, highlighted at the forum and in the paper this week, looked across the US for startups that were harnessing AI in ways that would benefit the workforce. Village Capital and Autodesk Foundation then selected 10 of those companies for the forum in San Francisco, which included investors as well as big companies such as Salesforce, Microsoft, and LinkedIn (now a part of Microsoft), to serve as mentors to the startups.
Startups selected included a wide range of organizations, Lowman told me. Some focused on workplace issues, such as helping large organizations mitigate bias in their hiring processes and make their recruitment efforts more efficient. Others focused on building tools to better train workers and help them gain emerging skills to prepare them for jobs of the future. Still others focused on automating rote processes to improve safety and reallocate worker time to higher-skilled tasks. In its paper, Village Capital highlighted the following reasons behind the selection of startups for this project:
"Startups are often more nimble than large corporations, and they typically excel at testing new ideas, failing fast, and iterating to fine tune a solution, an important quality in the field of machine learning. They are the tip of the spear when it comes to innovation."
In the area of training and improving skills, the report highlights a few big trends in the industry: the rise of outsourcing, a growing market of freelance workers, and the emergence of online learning.
The Village Capital paper notes, "The rise of online training opens the door for tools that are personalized, have multiple touch points throughout the day, and have on-off sync functionality. AI is well positioned to meet these needs. The rise of deep learning, for instance, has created customized learning paths for individuals, crafted based on expertise, interests, and personalized learning objectives, and adapts to the data resulting from user engagement with the learning applications."
Another area, positioned under the title "Productivity & Predictive Analytics" focused on how automation can improve productivity and workplace safety. For instance, when it comes to industrial IoT, data from factory sensors, wearables, and connected devices can be leveraged to predict upcoming issues with a system, according to the report. Or in terms of safety, one of the companies called MakuSafe uses both IoT sensors that workers wear and curated software to collect data on safety conditions in a workplace. Data tracked includes areas where accidents happen, when air quality declines, when temperatures escalate, or where dangerous equipment is located. That data is then fed into an algorithm that predicts when and where accidents are likely to happen.
"Startups are creating jobs and creating a new narrative," Lowman said. "They are helping to up-skill and re-skill workers, and to automate processes that are less expensive than they are for a human to do."
Check out these recent articles for more about automation and the start-up sector.