Artificial Intelligence: the human cost of automation
It seems we are on the cusp of creating artificial intelligence capable of finding answers to the world’s most pressing challenges, such as climate change and food security. AI is already having an impact on corporate sustainability activity, as companies already make use of AI to help improve their energy efficiency and emissions reductions, and also to develop new products and services. Take IBM for example, which uses AI to improve weather forecasting and renewable energy predictions. The system, known as SMT or simultaneous multithreading, is designed to learn from and improves solar forecasts derived from a variety of weather models, and by using artificial intelligence and what IBM calls “cognitive computing,” it can generate forecasts that are 30 percent more accurate. With this kind of forecast information, companies with large renewable installations can better manage their energy load, maximize renewable energy production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Perhaps one of the best-known examples of AI in action is in autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars proffer a promising sustainability future given the significant contribution made to greenhouse gas emissions by vehicles. Google, Uber, Tesla, Ford, Nissan and others are all now working to develop self-driving models.
AI is certainly very exciting, but one of its most concerning risks for me, as a sustainability professional, is its impact on jobs. In January this year, a McKinsey & Company study found that about 30% of tasks in 60% of occupations could be computerized and in 2015, the Bank of England’s chief economist said that 80m US and 15m UK jobs might be taken over by robots. So whilst AI brings tremendous advantages to some aspects of sustainability, for other social and societal aspects, the “advantages” are very concerning.
Automation is already staking its claim on positions such as switchboard operators, travel agents, and assembly line workers and it is also has the potential to replace driving-related occupations such as taxi and cab drivers. The challenge will be to understand how quickly humans can re-skill and adapt to create more and take advantage from this technical opportunity. Yes, AI will massively increase the demand and opportunities for the “right” people with the “right” technical skills over the next 15 to 20 years, but what about the hundreds of millions of “wrong” people with “wrong” skills and training that form a large part of any democratic society? In order to avoid the threat of mass unemployment, it is vital that governments and businesses prepare their infrastructure to adapt to this change in order that the nature of jobs changes, rather than disappears.
The importance of ‘long-termism’ and a sustainable mindset by Nicola Stopps, CEO of Simply Sustainable*
Safeguarding the environment to future-proof our economy
The Rise of the Consciousness Economy