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Machine Learning will replace tasks, not jobs, say MIT researchers 

Drawing human mind

Human advancement, or human replacement? 

Media coverage on artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and its effects on the future of work have become increasingly prevalent over the past several years. The debate on AI’s impact on humans has ranged from the late Stephen Hawkings fearing that “AI may replace humans altogether,” to others, such as Chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, arguing that humans "should not be alarmed” by AI, despite being beaten by Deep Blue, a chess-playing computer developed by IBM. 

But a new study by MIT Professor Erik Brynjolfsson and his colleagues suggests that there is more room for nuance in the debate on AI. They explain:

“Our findings suggest that a shift is needed in the debate about the effects of AI: away from the common focus on full automation of entire jobs and pervasive occupational replacement toward the redesign of jobs and reengineering of business practices.”
 

Task, not occupation, replacement

As reported in an article by MIT Sloan, their research indicates that “specific tasks within jobs, rather than entire occupations themselves, will be replaced by automation in the near future, with some jobs more heavily impacted than others.” 
 
Brynjolfsson explains: 

“Despite what Hollywood is saying, we’re very far from artificial general intelligence. That’s AI that can just do everything a human can. We don’t have anything close to that. We won’t for decades, unless there’s some amazing breakthrough." 
 

Brynjolfsson and his colleagues argue that some tasks will be more susceptible to replacement by machine learning, such as reading radiology images, while others will not, such as sensitively informing a patient of their diagnosis. The researchers created a rubric to assess which occupational tasks are suitable for replacement by machine learning. Read more about their work. 

 

AI and J-WEL

As research into machine learning and automation progresses, J-WEL’s Workplace Learning Collaborative is working to identify skills that will be required in the workforce of the future as a result of new developments in AI, demographic trends, globalization, and other factors. J-WEL members get discounted access to certain courses on AI, such as Brynjolfsson's online Sloan Executive Education course on digital business strategy. Contact us for details. 

 

Photo credit: MIT News