We've all heard about robots taking over the working world. This was wishful thinking until recently, Sure, there had been incremental reductions in the workforce over the years as machines took over, but this was generally in basic tasks relating to the assembly line.
Nowadays the robots are smarter, and this is not good for the workers. With Chinese labour costs skyrocketing, manufacturers there, especially those based in Taiwan, are increasingly looking to AI to cheapen their production. According to the SCMP, thirty-five Taiwanese companies, including Apple’s supplier Foxconn, spent a total of 4 billion yuan (US$610m)) on artificial intelligence last year.
This investment has allowed companies to start the significant shrinkage of their Chinese workforce.
In Kunshan, Jiangsu Province (near Shanghai), a Foxconn factory has reduced its employee strength from 110,000 to 50,000, thanks to the introduction of robots. It is reported that 600 other companies have similar plans, which must strike fear into the hearts of not only the 2.5m workers there, but also a government obsessed with law and order.
Artificial Intelligence is finally beginning to come of age - note the historic Go match between Lee Sedol, one of the world’s best players, and AlphaGo, an artificially intelligent computing system built by Google - and is starting to make waves both in the public consciousness and the world of business. Google, thanks in part to their purchase of UK AI company DeepMind, is a clear leader here, and is already using AI in its search.
And it is AI that is driving the push toward digital outsourcing - i.e. having your job done by a computer.
The Susskind and Susskind book 'The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts' has stimulated a great deal of discussion about digital outsourcing in the professional world.
Whilst many professions will see drastic cuts, the sheer numbers involved with the wholesale replacement of the manufacturing workforce have much more likelihood in leading to social unrest, and not just in China. AI-powered self-driving cars, for example, could lead to the loss of millions of driving jobs in the US alone; considering that 'truck driver' is reported to be the most common job in the majority of American states, losing this economic role to machines could be catastrophic.
AI will have a positive impact on many parts of the world, both social and business. But it will create chaos in the job market as people struggle to adapt.
It is time for governments to start waking up to the impact that AI is going to make on society. And they haven't got long: the machines are already knocking on the gate.