Automation driven by the rise of robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning is poised to change the working world faster and more dramatically than anything that has come before. This rapid and sudden economic transformation has sparked significant concerns about people losing their jobs to machines: While the roles most susceptible to automation are low-skill positions in fields like manufacturing, retail, and transportation, new technologies promise to have an impact on high-skill fields as well.
In fact, they already are. Quartz’s Dave Gershgorn passes along a story from Japan, where Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance is reportedly replacing 34 insurance claim assessors with an AI system based on IBM’s Watson technology:
The AI will scan hospital records and other documents to determine insurance payouts, according to a company press release, factoring injuries, patient medical histories, and procedures administered. Automation of these research and data gathering tasks will help the remaining human workers process the final payout faster, the release says.
Fukoku Mutual will spend $1.7 million (200 million yen) to install the AI system, and $128,000 per year for maintenance, according to Japan’s The Mainichi. … The Mainichi reports that three other Japanese insurance companies are testing or implementing AI systems to automate work such as finding ideal plans for customers. An Israeli insurance startup, Lemonade, has raised $60 million on the idea of “replacing brokers and paperwork with bots and machine learning,” says CEO Daniel Schreiber.
The financial sector is also pursuing technological enhancements that stand to displace some of its human workforce. Last month at the Wall Street Journal, Rob Copeland and Bradley Hope looked at what’s happening at Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund, where engineers are developing software to eventually take over the day-to-day management of the firm:
Bridgewater’s new technology would enshrine [founder Ray Dalio’s] unorthodox management approach in a software system. It could dole out GPS-style directions for how staff members should spend every aspect of their days, down to whether an employee should make a particular phone call.
The system remains under development, and the exact details of its operations are still being debated inside the firm. One employee familiar with the project described it as “like trying to make Ray’s brain into a computer.” …
The economy, Mr. Dalio has written, is “really just a zillion simple things working together.” Decades before computer-driven trading came into vogue, Bridgewater began tracking relations among what are now 100 million separate data points, such as international interest rates and retail sales, and creating investment algorithms.
How should knowledge workers safeguard their jobs in an ever-more-automated world? Nobody can know for sure, but the new AI-enhanced economy will still need humans for some tasks, and some experts argue that the best thing workers can do to remain employable is to build skill sets that complement and augment the power of digital technology rather than competing with it.