I used to feel smug when plumbers, bricklayers and the like used to complain of Eastern European migrants coming over here and taking their work. They might be able to replace a ballcock and lay a line of bricks but the one thing these Poles won’t be able to do, unless they happen to be Joseph Conrad, is write good English. My job would be safe.
But there was a great big hole in my thinking: I hadn’t reckoned on artificial intelligence. What happens – as it will do any day now – when the editor of the Spectator receives a salesman, or even a sales robot, peddling a device which cuts his contributors’ bill down to next to nothing? That’s all you have do, Mr Nelson: tap in the subject matter there, choose the word length, and then select a box on the right: ‘standard Conservative viewpoint’, ‘slightly loopy’, ‘testing even the patience of Speccie-readers’, or ‘Rod Liddle’, press ‘write’ and there instantly you have your piece. No faffing around waiting for a hack to file.
There are plenty of middle-class professionals who are beginning to feel the same insecurity. Wired magazine recently reported on the growing involvement of artificial intelligence in helping doctors to diagnose difficult conditions. A few keystrokes and the machine has done what previously took years of medical training: weighing up symptoms, analysing them and looking through millions of medical records for similar cases. It won’t eliminate doctors but it might well reduce their numbers.
If doctors, why not lawyers, accountants – and certainly bankers? The tale of the past 200 years is off technology steadily eliminating blue collar jobs. The story of the next century is likely to be technology doing the same for white collar ones. Unless you have a stake in the technology itself, it is going to be an uncomfortable time for professionals who have always thought themselves indispensable.
The subject will be discussed at a Spectator event Will Artificial Intelligence Put My Job at Risk on at 7pm on Wednesday 18 June at Prince Philip House, SW1. Speakers will include: Andrew Blake Laboratory Director, Microsoft; Jamie Bartlett Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, Demos; Nicola Smith Head of Economic and Social Affairs, Trade Unions Congress; and the author and journalist Bryan Appleyard.
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