Technophobia - Are we right to fear AI?

Technophobia - Are we right to fear AI?

The McKinsey Global Institute predicts about half of the activities done by the world’s workforce is at risk of being automated.

When done efficiently, automated work – especially those driven by artificial intelligence – amounts to nearly US$15tn in wages, the institute said.

That should be good news to a world facing productivity problems. So, why are many afraid of intelligent robots? HR Tech News explored different perspectives on this form of technophobia – or fear of advanced technology.

Job loss – and the changing meaning of work
A 2013 Oxford study forecast 47% of jobs in the US are exposed to automation, but research from McKinsey showed a further dichotomy between “full” and “partial” automation.

The McKinsey study found only about 5% of jobs are in danger of full automation.

On the other hand, organizations will see a wider trend of partially automated work – also known as augmented work – possible for nearly all professions. It’s about humans collaborating with robots.

“The biggest misconception is that automation and technology will replace people,” Darryl Garber, chief commercial officer at HR tech company ELMO, told HR Tech News. “Think about your own role. If you could automate the time-consuming, repetitive tasks, how would that help you?”

AI leader and author Kiran Garimella is looking further into the future. He believes intelligent automation would eliminate jobs: “Lots of them and in the most unexpected ways and at an unexpected pace.”

But intelligent automation would also change our definition of work, he said on Forbes.

“I’m not saying humans would be – or even could be – completely eliminated from the equation,” Garimella said. “Only that their role would become either minimal or move up the cognitive scale; they would function as casual supervisors or auxiliary helpers when things get really tricky, and that too on very reduced work hours.”

Super intelligence
Futurists often try to sell the notion of “human-like” robots making the world of work easier.

But technologist David Vandegrift cautioned on Quora that human-level AI would be nothing like how humans work.

AI robots would be more “like 10,000 people all hooking their brains together and collaborating within microseconds.” The fear of the robots thus stems from the dearth of information about an AI-driven future, he said.

“Ask 10 different experts how long the gap will be between [artificial general intelligence] and [artificial super intelligence] – essentially deity-like computer powers – and you’ll get 10 different answers ranging from a day to never,” said Vandegrift.

“I’m thrilled for the development of strong AI, but I’m also terrified of what will happen if we make a mistake in its development,” he said.

For Stephane Kasriel, CEO of freelancing platform Upwork, envisioning the negative outcomes of AI may help humans better prepare for the future, but he also warns people against being paralyzed by anxiety over emerging tech.

The world needs to keep building a “constructive conversation” around AI and automation, Kasriel said.

The CEO believes in focusing less on anxious predictions and more on positive outcomes: “[We] can’t let our anxieties become self-fulfilling prophecies.”