Government

Emtech China: Warnings of AI causing job losses continue

©iSTOCK/PhonlamaiPhoto

This year’s EmTech China conference in Beijing was filled with exciting insights at where AI is heading, but it also carried the usual warnings of potential job losses.

The three-day event is organised by MIT Technology Review and features some of the world’s most talented experts.

In the past, we’ve heard from the likes of Elon Musk saying AI will mean a ‘universal basic income’ will become necessary as more jobs become automated. Others counter this argument by claiming AI will not replace many jobs, but instead will help to make them easier.

Matching a human’s creativity is one such area where machines were expected to struggle for the foreseeable future. However, we’ve seen AI making large strides in this area.

On stage at Emtech China, Microsoft’s natural language processing researcher Ming Zhou showed how their AI programs are composing music and performing it on CCTV. Tencent’s AI Lab director, Tong Zhang, also showcased Dreamwriter — a robot reporter.

Earlier this month, Microsoft also demonstrated its AttnGAN project which uses AI to draw whatever is asked of it. The image below was drawn by the bot and would be quite difficult to differentiate from a photograph — you would at least think it was drawn by a professional artist.

©Microsoft

Right now, not all the examples are quite so impressive as the bird in Microsoft’s demo — but it shows how quick advancements are occurring. Part of the pace of these advancements is the battle for superiority between the U.S. and China which, even in other industries, appears to be as strong as ever.

Xiao’ou Tang, Professor at the Department of Information Engineering at CUHK, comments:

“At this point, we have so much to learn from the US. Of course, China has its unique advantages: we have a lot more scenarios for AI application and we have a lot more data that is allowed to be used and we don’t have such strict laws about data like in the US. And we have a leadership which is mostly engineers which is why we have this national policy to push for AI research. That’s the advantage on the Chinese side, but the idea is that we should collaborate.”

In the UK, the Centre for Cities has published a report which estimates that by 2030 nine areas could lose more than a quarter of jobs to automation and AI. Roles in shops, administration, and warehouses are the most at risk. Towns and cities with a ‘lower share of high-skilled jobs’ — such as Mansfield, Sunderland and Wakefield — face losing nearly 30 percent of their current roles.

“Automation and globalisation will bring huge opportunities, but there is also a real risk that many people and places will lose out,” says Andrew Carter, chief executive of Centre for Cities. “We need to reform the education system to give young people the skills to thrive in the future, and we also need greater investment in lifelong learning to help adults adapt to the changing labour market.”

Are you concerned by AI causing job losses? Let us know in the comments.

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