AI and jobs: Where humans are better than algorithms, and vice versa

It's easy to get caught up in the doom-and-gloom predictions about artificial intelligence wiping out millions of jobs. Here's a reality check.
Written by Jason Hiner, Editor in Chief

The 21st century's longest shadow hanging over the technology industry, workers, and humanity in general, is the effect that artificial intelligence, robots, and automation are going to have on jobs.

The popular narrative is generally filled with lots of doom-and-gloom about AI wiping out whole industries and millions of people going unemployed, but let's take a little reality check and look at where humans do a better job than AI, and vice versa, to give you some context for how the workforce of the future is going to change.

Where AI wins

It's no secret that algorithms and robots can smoke humans at repetitive tasks and solving problems that involve crunching large, well-organized data sets. Humans get bored and distracted doing the same things over and over again. Robots and computers don't care.

Humans are also slow and prone to error when processing and evaluating patterns in big data. Algorithms have long since lapped us. That's why IBM's Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in chess in 1997, and it's why Google DeepMind beat Lee Sedol in the Game of Go in 2016. They used pattern analysis on datasets with very clear rules and parameters.

SEE: Software automation policy guidelines(Tech Pro Research)

Where humans win

However, what AI and algorithms are not good at is dealing with ambiguity and gray areas. They don't understand context or nuance, and so they aren't good at making judgment calls. That's where humans are much faster and more accurate.

One of the dirty little secrets about AI and big data is that the tech giants working on it are hiring lots of human beings to sort, organize, cleanse, and prepare the data to be analyzed by the algorithms--because humans are better at it.

As more and more of the economy gets digitized and automated, it's going to create more opportunities for humans with critical thinking skills. And those aren't just white collar jobs either. Robots and AI won't be fixing your plumbing or building skyscrapers. But, they will provide those workers with data that can help them work faster, more efficiently, and more safely.

SEE: Despite the hype, workers aren't scared of AI stealing their jobs (TechRepublic)

future jobs
Image: iStockphoto/chombosan

Special report

To learn more on this important topic, read our special report "IT Jobs in 2020: A Leader's Guide." You can read all of the articles on ZDNet or you can download them in one PDF on TechRepublic, available for free to registered users.


The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8:00am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

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