AI Won’t Take Your Job Anytime Soon

Tech

Worried AI will take your job? A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology might make you sigh with relief.

Despite all the doomsayers who talk about the jobs that will be displaced by artificial intelligence, researchers at MIT say that’s less likely than it seems. And it all comes down to one reason: money.

The study looked at two factors: whether AI was able to perform a task and whether it made sense economically for a company to replace the humans performing the task.

The answer? Yes, AI can do some jobs as well as (or even better) than people, but it would cost a lot more for them to do so.

“‘Machines will steal our jobs’ is a sentiment frequently expressed during times of rapid technological change. Such anxiety has re-emerged with the creation of large language models,” the researchers wrote. “We find that only 23% of worker compensation ‘exposed’ to AI computer vision would be cost-effective for firms to automate because of the large upfront costs of AI systems…At today’s costs, U.S. businesses would choose not to automate most vision tasks that have ‘AI Exposure’.”

Put another way, while the findings support that job displacement from AI could be substantial, the researchers say it will be gradual due to the costs, particularly the expenses that come with installing and operating AI. And that presents an opportunity.

“There is room for [government] policy and retraining to mitigate unemployment impacts,” the report reads.  

The study focused on computer vision AI, the ability to recognize and categorized objects in video and images. What researchers found was the cost to get those systems to regularly accomplish the desired task was expensive. That’s doable for large companies, perhaps, but prohibitive for small- and medium-sized businesses, which employ the majority of workers.

In addition, it noted, humans tend to perform more than just one function in their job, so training costs would be increases as the AI is trained on a new task.

“Consider a small bakery evaluating whether to automate with computer vision,” the report suggests. “One task that bakers do is to visually check their ingredients to ensure they are of sufficient quality (e.g. unspoiled)…Bureau of Labor Statistics data imply that checking food quality comprises roughly 6% of the duties of a baker. A small bakery with five bakers making typical salaries ($48,000 each per year), thus has potential labor savings from automating this task of $14,000 per year. This amount is far less than the cost of developing, deploying and maintaining a computer vision system and so we would conclude that it is not economical to substitute human labor with an AI system at this bakery.”

It’s worth noting that Generative AI systems like GPT4 were not part of the study. At present, fine-tuning those large language models is largely not an option, as customization of responses can create potential safety issues.

The AI market is changing rapidly, though. Generative AI will likely reach a point where businesses can adjust the technology to meet their needs. And costs will come down. That, say MIT’s researchers, is when the real potential for job loss is likely to be felt.

“This slower roll-out of AI can be accelerated if costs falls rapidly or if it is deployed via AI-as-a-service platforms that have greater scale than individual firms,” they write. “Overall, our findings suggest that AI job displacement will be substantial, but also gradual.”

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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