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Home » AI & Digital Transformation » Harry Goddard: AI will transform the job market — but its impact doesn’t have to be negative

Harry Goddard

Chief Executive Officer, Deloitte Ireland

Last week, Finance Minister Michael McGrath sparked headlines when he predicted that one in every three jobs would be at risk from artificial intelligence (AI) in the future.

He was speaking about research being undertaken by the Government on the impact AI may have on the Irish economy and labour market.

For the last 11 months I have been working to answer some the questions the Government has been addressing — and based on the AI projects I have seen to date, I would agree with this assessment.

If anything, I think the potential impact could be greater.

In using the word “risk”, McGrath is forcing us all to pay attention to the emergence of AI.

Based on everything I have seen to date, the organisations, countries and companies that have the ability to adapt to change will stand the best chance of unlocking the benefit of AI.

The need for humans didn’t diminish with the invention of the laptop

Risk doesn’t mean jobs will be destroyed — but it does mean that we will have to prepare workers for jobs in a tech-enabled AI future.

The organisations that will find it difficult to survive will be those that don’t have an ability to embrace change, and are uncomfortable accepting the risk involved in large-scale transformation.

For organisations that use old IT systems and poor-quality data, AI will be a potentially terminal risk.

In January, the International Monetary Fund looked at the impact that AI will have on employment.

The two stand-out findings were that up to 40pc of global employment is exposed to AI, and that advanced economies were more at risk than developing economies.Pause

Right now, we are seeing AI used primarily in R&D and product design in high-value, high-volume products. The industries that are looking to adapt are life sciences, pharmaceutical, technology and IT.

Data is the raw material for AI, and because these industries are data-based, they are extremely sophisticated in how they collect, collate and manage data.

Ireland is home to many of the world’s largest companies in these sectors — the early adopters — so we must create an environment that allows them to harness AI in the right way to drive innovation.

Over the coming years, it is likely that AI adoption will begin to have an influence on manufacturing — starting at those hi-tech, high-value ­products, and then moving into supply chains, logistics, financial and professional services.

All of these sectors will see job roles change. Humans will ­gradually be moved out of analysis roles, as AI will be able to do such jobs far more efficiently.

By recognising which tasks can be automated, which can be improved, which will have limited impact, and which new tasks might emerge, businesses can navigate the challenges and opportunities posed by generative AI and determine what kind of upskilling curricula will be necessary for workers down the road.

At the same time, it is vital for governments and societies to prepare in the way McGrath is preparing for the dislocation of employment that AI will bring about.

The most extreme risk of AI is that it will create a more divided world

The countries that seek to create an infrastructure and environment that allows them to prepare for the “fourth industrial revolution” will succeed.

Ireland has a unique opportunity to provide two of the essential materials for this revolution — sustainable electricity and a digitally skilled workforce.

Just as fossil fuels powered the first industrial revolution, sustainable energy will power this one.

AI requires a significant amount of processing power which must be sustainably produced. Ireland’s territorial waters are an abundant source of generation capacity and have the potential to generate the energy required.

The most extreme risk of AI is that it will create a more divided world, excluding those parts of society that can’t access technology.

A focus on the technology and access to it needs to be embedded into our education system to ensure we are setting up our future in the right way, developing people’s skills so they can work alongside the technology to drive a more efficient, more effective, and more productive economy.

We need to ensure that we concentrate on using education, at all levels, to bridge this divide. From my perspective this is the most critical and immediate need — and it is vital that it is rolled out as a matter of priority.

In Ireland, more than 300,000 people have already used AI in their workplaces. In many cases this use was experimental, but it shows a substantial number are adopting the technology in the very early stages.

It is vital we continue our efforts to develop the resilience of the Irish workforce to prepare for the wide-scale adoption of AI.

Balancing innovation and regulation is a constant issue — and achieving the right balance will be crucial to ensuring the risks are mitigated, avoided or controlled.

When assessing the potential impact of AI, we must remember the need for humans didn’t diminish with the invention of the laptop. Instead, we got faster at doing work.

McGrath’s estimate that one third of jobs could be impacted by AI is likely to be conservative — but it doesn’t mean the impact has to be negative.

In the short-term, more organisations expect the technology to increase headcount (39pc) than to decrease it (22pc).

If we focus on re-skilling the labour force to work with AI, embedding AI skills into the education system and the generation of sustainable electricity, I believe we will benefit as an economy and society.

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