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Will Artificial Intelligence put my job at risk?

5 June 2014

10:30 AM

5 June 2014

10:30 AM

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.

You can join the discussion by clicking here.

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Show comments
  • balance_and_reason

    the further you are up the decision/artistic/innovation tree…the safer you are…I suspect many bureaucrats could easily be replaced right now, with a meaningful improvement in service and productivity.

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  • Scott Martin

    What many of you are forgetting is Strong or General AI. In the short term most AI applications will be for specific tasks and mostly to augment human intelligence. This will lead to a dramatic reduction in the number of jobs for sure, but not eliminate jobs completely.

    But once you have Strong or General AI, and it is affordable, the whole equation changes. The only question is how far out it is, 30 years? 100? 200? But it will come. Strong or General AI is when an AI is equal to a human intelligence. When AI is able to be flexible as a human, and learn like a human, and do human tasks. Once we hit that, then there simply is no job that an AI couldn’t do if a human could do it. And they will learn faster and cost less, and make less mistakes than a human.

    In my mind the question isn’t “are you going to lose your job?” but “how long do we have left?” I am an optimist, I think this will be a good thing long term. But we need to start talking about handling the change now.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “Will Artificial Intelligence put my job at risk?”
    You`d better believe it, darlin`,

  • Fraser Bailey

    I think there’s a Toynbee algorithm that allows us to see this technology at work.

    It produces the same article, twice a week, on demand.


  • terence patrick hewett

    “Robot” may be nearer than you think: how many journos use – article writing/novel writing/script writing software to take the heavy lifting out of writing multiple scenarios in advance to be tiddled up later as required. My bet is most of them. And there are well over 100 types of software out there that do this: and they are like voice activated software: getting better and better.

  • The Masked Marvel

    One can think of a few journalists – indeed of entire publications – who could be easily replaced by a news aggregator and churnalism algorithm, moderated by one or two people. The machines will not be able to replace original or investigative reporting, though. What will be endangered are the opinion, commentary, and “analysis” pieces by those who get paid mostly to react and sneer. What a shame that would be.

  • Tom M

    “……tap in the subject matter there, choose the word length, and then select a box on the right……..”
    The piece above reads like that’s how it was constructed.
    Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

  • rtj1211

    Of course it will.

    But you can be sure of one thing: there will be an unbustable cartel of AI providers who make sure that it never removes their jobs.

    Just like journalists not ratting on their own or their publishers.

    Imagine what the Press would be like if the activities of Rupert Murdoch’s testosterone were monitored using 24/7/365 satellite surveillance?? AND printed immediately for the whole world to read.


    • the viceroy’s gin

      It’s amusing that your previous rant pretty much is you self describing yourself, lad, as this post clearly demonstrates.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    Although you meeeej-yuh drones can easily be replaced, it’s quite impossible to fully replace professionals, lad.

    Now, some professional duties can be streamlined and given over to AI, but that’s always been underway, if you’re talking true professionals. Our job is to work ourselves out of a job, if you understand professional ethics (I don’t include lawyers in that, obviously.).

    But we’ll always need professional people. Doctors will give over basic duties, and absorb the new methods and apply them. Engineers likewise. And let me know if you find anybody willing to step onto a passenger aircraft with no pilot on board.

    • rtj1211

      It’s strange that you are capable of judging your own worth.

      I’ve never read a person whose comments were less professional, more inappropriate and more venal than yours.

      You aren’t a professional. You’re a psychopathic bully with so much pent up vitriol that you could only work in a job where sadistic bullying was your daily bread.

      Professionals know how to behave and are mature enough to accept differences of opinion.

      You can do none of those things, ergo you are not professional.

      No matter what your qualifications are, no matter what your job title is.

      You betray your true values, attitudes and prejudices every time you write a single word on this site.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        You are a typical socialist nutter, lad, always a victim.

        And like the author of this blogpost, you couldn’t know what a professional is.

    • Scott Martin

      Just as cars will be driverless, planes will be pilotless in 30 years. No doubt. Flights are already mostly automated, ask any pilot. They are mostly there to take off and land and monitor gauges.

      And you are forgetting about Strong AI. It may be further out than AI that assists doctors for example, but it will happen potentially in our lifetimes. Strong AI is AI with an equal capability and intelligence as a human. Once you get to that then there are no jobs left that can’t be done cheaper and more accurately than with a human.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Again, let me know when you find someone who wants to step onto a passenger aircraft without a pilot on board.

        I get that you believe in this stuff, I just know that machines won’t be replacing people any time soon. I’ve used technology as it’s come along, and it’s wonderful. It’s made us work more efficiently, but professionals will still be around to make it all work.

        A good doctor can look at a patient walking in the door and know if they are in ill health. They can just know it. They can see color, body language, temperature… they can feel it in their bones. Machines can’t, and won’t for some time, if ever.

        And when those machines do come along, we professionals will be using them, and specifying them, and maintaining them, and reviewing their performance… and … and… well, you get the idea.

  • Smithersjones2013

    To imply that most journalists have intelligence which can be replaced, whilst amusing, does rather undermine the whole narrative of this article…..

  • Brandon Cross

    As a business who is researching AI, and implementing it for myself, I totally expect it will have a vast impact on middle class jobs. Expect data analysts, managers, and many white collar jobs to be replaced by these AI’s. They are no joke, their coming, and they will manage your company business processes. They will yield such a big competitive advantage, anyone without one won’t be able to play. These are not the robots who will take away most of the blue collar jobs next. AI’s are not “sentient computers” they are simply “machine learning algorithms” which are running routines against “big data”, learning what’s normal, and unusual, good and bad, and being trained by those of us in this field of research, by watching what YOU the workers are doing, and learning from you. So you are unknowingly training your own replacement, and this can all be done without anyone’s knowledge except the CEO, and IT. Within 5-6 years, you’ll be communicating with these AI’s every day, and probably won’t even notice. Unless you used to have a job that got replaced.

  • sir_graphus

    I can guarantee that whatever AI will do in the private sector, the public sector payroll will keep increasing.

    • Brandon Cross

      Ask yourself this: “What happens when nobody has to work, but the country’s economy continues to perform the same as when everyone worked, and grows more steadily, with less volatility?”

      Socialism works really, really well. Capitalism, not so much.

      • First L

        Capitalism works whenever one person has an excess of something that someone else wants.

        • you_kid


          • the viceroy’s gin

            …your sockpuppets?

        • Liberty

          Capitalism is just the use of tools to produce goods. The first capitalist was probably a queen bee. Socialists are thus the ultimate capitalists, commandeering capital and allowing the plebs access to the produce – such produce that could result with the likes of Miliband, Balls, Harman, et al. running things.

      • Vehmgericht

        Well, what happens is that the powers that be start considering methods of thinning out the plebs….

      • Liberty

        Sociaism is not the logical result of your premise. Only a socialist could think that it is.

    • Liberty

      I too worried about that. I concluded that because in the private sector capital [technology] returns will be so much more than workers so work, pay and demand plus tax income will decline forcing governments to make savings and the best way to do that is to shed workers. If governments try to inflate to keep the money coming in it will still be at the expense of the private sector so the nation will become uncompetitive and have to cut costs – ie, the public sector. Up till now, the western nations have colluded in inflating their economies and the 2008 bust was the consequence {Europe did the same but have the shackle of the euro now] but they have since discovered that they cannot compete with the lean and mean economies that way. So, the US and UK are cutting the cost of government. I know, it doesn’t look like it but they are at the investment stage so returns will come later. The public sector will always be behind the curve but on the curve nevertheless.

  • dalai guevara

    I believe we are further down the line with this already than many people care to think – I further believe some repetitive comments on this very blogsite are already entirely computer generated. ‘Intelligence’ does not come into it and never will.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …as you and your army of sockpuppets amply demonstrate.

      • rtj1211

        Yours are one of the sets of comments that would be under investigation…….

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …yes, you socialist nutters do like investigating people, don’t you?

  • Hello

    “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”

    I think you’re overcomplicating the process. News can just be based on press releases, the occasional comment piece can just take the underlying themes from the news as a subject matter, and the viewpoint can be tailored to the individual reader based on their habits: Mr. Nelson is not required.

    • glurk

      will there be a ‘mobilise bullsh*t’ button too? At the moment we have Telly doing it unaided…or is he?

  • Grey Wolf

    ”Will Artificial Intelligence Put My Job at Risk?”

    No. You are safe, mate. Don’t worry.

  • Ricky Strong

    “The tale of the past 200 years is off technology steadily eliminating blue collar jobs”.

    Perhaps you could use artificial intelligence to check for grammatical errors?

    • telemachus

      Do we need smug over educated metropolitan types wading into sensible debates?

      • Darnell Jackson

        No, so foxtrot oscar.

    • Chris Morriss

      Certainly needed, given the atrocious use of English in some of the comments.

      • Ricky Strong

        I was more annoyed at the author for being so obnoxious in his dismissal of two decent and honest professions and the loss of many working class British jobs. He just so happened to have shot himself in the foot, much to my delight, after his self declaration of ‘writing good English’.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Chris, I`m with you on that. And the really big issue is not the errors, reprehensible as they are. No, far more serious is the mind set that typographical, spelling, grammatical … mistakes really don`t matter. Trash Culture UK right this way.