Why sentient tools will be catastrophic to the job market

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Columnist Rob Enderle writes that the rapid rise of sentient technologies such as autonomous cars will have a major impact on the job market that could leave a huge number of people unemployed and a substantial number of companies non-viable.


My old friend Brian David Johnson, one of the leading futurists in the world, just published a frightening paper on Sentient Tools for Frost & Sullivan. This paper has similar themes to a recent massive GAO report suggesting that the rapid rise of sentient tools is going to have a profound impact on the job market.

This impact indicates that many folks across a wide spectrum of jobs are not only going to be displaced, but that they may be unemployable. In addition, we may be looking at the near total elimination of many, if not most, of the entry jobs that kids first get when coming out of school.

While the wave is still some years away, and not decades, suggesting preparation, both at a government and commercial level, is overdue if we are to be adequately prepared for this change.

[ Related: How to prepare IT workers for the impact of automation ]

I recommend reading the full paper and downloading the GAO report and reading the relevant sections not only to make sure your firm is prepared but to make sure your family is ready for what could be a near catastrophic impact on the job market as we move to Sentient Tools.

What are sentient tools?

Autonomous cars are the most visible example of this class of tool. This family of coming products is defined by having situational awareness, intelligence and advanced machine/human communications capability.

[ Related: Training AI to be man's smartest best friend ]

Situational awareness means that the tool can perceive the world around it and understand what it sees. Intelligence, in this context, means that it can take this perception, learn from it and from its own experiences, and make decisions based on both its perceptions and its cumulative experience (and/or the experiences of other systems). Social awareness means it actually learns from the humans that interact with it and other like systems. And finally communications capability means, in this context, that rather than people having to learn how to deal with it, it learns how to deal with them using a multitude of modes including, but not limited to, voice, gestures, touch and fascial expressions.  

Initially these tools aren’t specifically designed to replace humans, but to supplement them. However, they will quickly evolve to replace people who perform similar functions. For instance, paralegals, research associates, clerks, junior accountants, analysts, relief drivers, warehouse workers, delivery people and a cross section of the remaining human assembly work (this is not an exhaustive list).  

As noted, these tools ae based on AI and are specifically tied to massive advancements in data mining as it relates to diagnosis, pattern recognition, regression testing, automated classification and clustering, and process optimization. These are coupled with technological advancements in computer vision, deep learning, natural language processing, neural networks and the ever more prevalent network of devices and sensors we now refer to as internet of things (IoT).  

The end result is, and will be, a broad set of tools that can outperform humans in a variety of jobs. The overall impact of which has also been discussed in the books The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, and the somewhat older The Lights in the Tunnel: Automaton, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future.

Timing of impact

The paper breaks down the impact into four periods: Less than 2 years, 2-5 years, 5-10 years and more than 10 years. Be aware the farther out the period the higher the risk that the timeline will be disrupted by an unanticipated event like a major breakthrough, unplanned government action, or unanticipated obstacle.

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