Author and futurist Alex Salkever, formerly Marketing Communications Manager at Mozilla, spoke at the Financial Women’s Association’s May 9 Summit “The Future of Work.” The presentation, “The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Can Change the Future” addressed the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation with human employees in the workplace.
Mr. Salkever pointed out that AI is better than humans at certain tasks and will take over parts of our jobs. For example, AI is already used for specific, repetitive tasks such as figuring out credit ratings or transcribing multi-person conference calls. AI can learn and recognize faster than humans in narrow applications such as voice or image recognition. This is referred to “weak or narrow” AI, which represents over 99% of AI tasks today.
The future of AI is referred to as “strong” AI, where the computer acts like a human brain and learns a task from scratch using creative thinking. Experts in the field predict that this type of AI could become available in another 40 years, perhaps sooner. One early example of strong AI is AlphaGo. This program essentially taught itself to play the game of Go, and went on to beat one of the best professional human players of Go without handicaps in a five-game match. Another example is a four-legged robot created by a Columbia University engineer. The robot learned to walk and when one of its legs was cut off, it relearned how to walk on three legs.
Mr. Salkever opined that parts of jobs in various industries, including finance, will disappear as AI takes over rote tasks, but that other jobs will be created. He cited the case of “Flippy,” a robot introduced at Caliburger restaurant in California in 2017. Flippy was intended to handle the hot, dirty, repetitive task of grilling, leaving employees to complete the orders and interact with customers. The robot’s introduction did not go as smoothly as planned – Flippy was so fast that the restaurant needed to add more workers. Flippy wasn’t intended to replace people but rather to serve as “extra hands” at the grill. Ultimately, Flippy’s creators hope to introduce Flippy into 50 Caliburgers.
In finance, AI also does rote spreadsheet work and generates visual content. Mr. Salkever noted that at Goldman Sachs, 25% of employees are now computer engineers, many of whom work on creating AI and algorithms for processes and investing. Mr. Salkever claims that AI is good at buy and sell stock recommendations based on pattern recognition (technical analysis) and is cheaper than humans since it requires no benefits or bonus. Robo-advisors such as Acorn, Betterment and Wealthfront use algorithms and AI to invest customers’ money in ETFs, primarily index-oriented funds, thus cutting out the middle-man broker. Mr. Salkever also discussed a company that uses AI to automate bank processes such as credit, fraud detection, settlement and underwriting. Additionally, this technology can be used in in legal services and insurance. He notes that economic desks at brokerage firms use AI for portfolio construction.
In human resources, Mr. Salkever discussed Textio — an algorithm which creates less biased job descriptions versus its human counterparts. However, he cautions, algorithms can inherit the biases of their creators.
In a nod to human ingenuity, Mr. Salkever notes that AI is not good at collaboration, teamwork, people skills, creative problem solving, non-linear thinking, relationship building and management. It appears that there’s hope for the human race.