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Merging humans with machines, the answer to keeping up with AI?

Contributor Ramtin Hakimjavadi

Courtesy of Fisher Jones Greenwood

The next wave of advances in artificial intelligence will profoundly change the job market. Exactly how, and to what extent, remain important questions.


The automation of rote tasks will free up the average human worker to pursue more creative and cognitively challenging work. First, however, there will be growing pains as jobs previously occupied by humans will become obsolete.


As the status quo changes, several different kinds of transitions could ensue. AI in the workplace could be leveraged in such a way that humans and machines remain siloed, working on completely different tasks. Alternatively, as AI systems become capable of performing higher order cognition, collaboration between humans and machines will become more likely. The bleak eventuality of this could be that one day, AI will entirely surpass humans in their ability to reason and think, erasing the need for human contribution.


An AI-dominated future where machines make humans obsolete, in the workplace and beyond, is a well-documented possibility in science fiction. However, with the speed of advances in AI research, and the ubiquitous nature of its integration with society - medicine, social media, lie-detection, etc. - these concerns may not remain fictitious for long.


As students preparing to enter the workforce, how can knowledge of these changes help one ensure job security? In order for human workers to keep pace with the advances of AI, and maintain a state of collaboration with machines, the next generation of workplace culture needs to be redefined.


Visit willrobotstakemyjob.com to have the likelihood of almost any profession being replaced by AI predicted for you. For example, future software developers, graphic designers, and lawyers can breathe a sigh of relief as it seems that these careers will remain relatively resistant to takeover by AI systems. These predictions, however, are based on our knowledge of AI capabilities today. To assume that the current state of AI will remain stagnant for years to come would be naive and contrary to its exponential growth over the past couple of decades.


Therefore, it seems unlikely that targeting ‘safe’ career paths - those resistant to automation - is the best approach. In the coming industrial revolution, it will be less about picking a safe job, and more about embracing continuous learning and constant updating of skills throughout your career.


The notion that education ends when your career begins could not be farther from the truth, as jobs demanding constant evolution in their workers begin to dominate the market. According to Indranil Roy, the head of the Future of Work Centre of Excellence, the ‘half-life of a skill’ is decreasing rapidly - the skills that an individual possesses at the start of their career remain relevant for increasingly shorter windows of time. Continuous learning, continuous skill acquisition, and continuous adaptation - this is a daunting career landscape even for the brightest individuals.


Elon Musk, world-famous technology entrepreneur and CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, is not optimistic about the future of humans in a society intertwined with AI - at least as things stand today. If you are familiar with Musk’s ambitious spirit, you could predict that he would not simply accept this status quo.


Musk has gotten involved with the race to keep up with AI by pursuing what is referred to as transhumanism - the movement that advocates for improving the human condition by intertwining technology and human biology in order to enhance human intellect and physiology.  


Whether the acquisition of new skills and constant adaptation in the workplace require transhumanistic implantable brain chips, just ask Elon Musk. At Code Conference 2016, he described his humorous but concerning analogy: the alternative to adding a digital layer of intelligence to our brains is being treated like house pets by our AI overlords, “I don't love the idea of being a house cat, but what's the solution? I think one of the solutions that seems maybe the best is to add an AI layer," he said.


Neuralink, the neurotechnology company cofounded by Musk and other prominent neuroscientists, is working on developing brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) for both medical applications and the augmentation of normal human abilities. Musk envisions using these implantable brain chips to enhance cognitive capacity in humans, and to ultimately help humans keep pace with the emergence of machines.


Neuralink’s venture into neural engineering raises questions of whether humans will eventually merge with machines, which comes with obvious ethical and safety considerations. Musk believes that transhumanism, or the merge of man and machine, has already occurred to a certain extent. In this information age, the internet and social media are closely embedded with everyday life thanks to our smartphones and emerging wearables like smartwatches. In his view, BMIs would just be the next step along this same path.

Currently, the dominant discussion surrounding Neuralink is the technical challenges of embedding a BMI. Sufficiently miniaturizing the BMI device and inserting it safely into the brain are the most important bottlenecks to address. Moreover, in order to pass stringent regulations, Neuralink’s BMIs will initially focus on addressing medical needs - e.g. assisting patients with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's - and move on to augment cognition in the general public afterwards.


In the mid to late 1900s, a high school diploma would prepare you adequately for your career - a Bachelor’s degree from university would put you miles ahead of your peers. Over the decades, having a Bachelor’s degree became the expectation, and pursuing higher levels of education like Master’s degrees and PhDs became the way to gain an advantage. Once again, the career landscape is changing, but in much more fundamental ways. Individuals entering the job market are no longer competing against other humans, and they need to be prepared to continuously learn and evolve throughout their entire careers.