Advances in artificial intelligence could lead to mass unemployment, warn experts

Academics say half of US jobs could be automated within a decade or two

Experts have warned that rapidly improving artificial intelligence could lead to mass unemployment just days after Google revealed the purchase of a London based start-up dedicated to developing this technology.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Dr Stuart Armstrong from the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford said that there was a risk that computers could take over human jobs “at a faster rate than new jobs could be generated.”

“We have some studies looking at to which jobs are the most vulnerable and there are quite a lot of them in logistics, administration, insurance underwriting,” said Dr Armstrong. “Ultimately, huge swathe of jobs are potentially vulnerable to improved artificial intelligence.”

Dr Murray Shanahan, a professor of cognitive robotics at Imperial College London, agreed that improvements in artificial intelligence were creating “short term issues that we all need to be talking about.”

"It's very difficult to predict," said Dr Shanahan. "That is, of course, a concern. But in the past when we have developed new kinds of technologies then often they have created jobs at the same time as taking them over. But it certainly is something we ought to be discussing."

Both academics did however praise Google for creating an ethics board to look at the “how to deploy artificial intelligence safely and reduce the risks” after its £400 million purchase of London-based start-up DeepMind.

Google's search technology power devices such as Google Glass (above), allowing users to perform searchs and ask for help in natural language.

DeepMind has been operating largely unnoticed by the wider UK technology scene, although its advances in artificial intelligence have obviously been of interest to the experts - founded in just 2012, DeepMind is Google's largest European acquisition to date.

Dr Shanahan hailed DeepMind as “a company with some outstanding people working for it,” noting that the company has mainly been working in the areas of machine learning and deep learning, which he described as “all about finding patterns in very large quantities of data.”

Google’s purchase of the company has led to speculation as to how they might implement the technology. Although there had been some talk of using DeepMind’s algorithms to give ‘brains’ to Google recent robotic purchases, insiders have said that the acquisition was about improving search functionality, not AI.

Regardless of how DeepMind’s expertise will be used, Google’s purchase of the company underscores increasing fears over the impact of technology on employment.

Academics note that although professions have always been threatened by the forces of ‘progress' (a nebulous concept that can cover anything from speedier computers to more efficient steam engines), current trends suggest jobs are being destroyed faster than they are being created.

A recent paper by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne of Oxford University suggests that nearly half (47 per cent) of all American jobs are under threat and could be automated in “a decade of two”.

Frey and Osborne identify the most at-risk jobs as those which are based in routines (eg telemarketing, low-level accounting and data entry) and which could be replaced by increasingly advanced algorithms, as well as jobs in industry and manufacturing which have already been deeply hurt by advances in the last decades (see video above).

“While computerization has been historically confined to routine tasks involving explicit rule-based activities, algorithms for big data are now rapidly entering domains reliant upon pattern recognition and can readily substitute for labour in a wide range of non-routine cognitive tasks,” write Frey and Osborne.

“In addition, advanced robots are gaining enhanced senses and dexterity, allowing them to perform a broader scope of manual tasks. This is likely to change the nature of work across industries and occupations.”

Unfortunately, it seems that we can assume the same problems will also become rapidly apparent in the UK. Although certain types of jobs are not yet threatened (especially those which involve dealing with other humans – a vague category that can cover anything from healthcare to management) this is no guarantee that they’ll be safe forever.

Read more:
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

    £55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

    Web Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – Up to £43k

    £35000 - £43000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    Internal Project Manager - Business Analyst, Financial Services

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: One of the best known and most pr...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn