You could be forgiven for feeling blindsided by the speed at which artificial intelligence has moved from technology of the future, to the here and now. Its rise has been so fast and sudden it’s outpaced even questions on its safety and controlling philosophy, leaving technology pioneers like Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak to call for a six-month pause in its development while these are considered.
As altruistic as this sounds, its unlikely to happen; companies do not give up a competitive edge when they have a significant jump over their rivals. The seriousness with which it is being taken, however, has poured napalm on the fire of what AI can do for us and specifically which industries it will affect first or potentially replace entirely.
First, an important point; no industry or occupation will be devastated overnight. That would require immediate and total acceptance from millions of people across multiple, distinct industries combined with a near unprecedented wave of investment. Artificial intelligence, however, is an earthquake that has already kick-started a tsunami of change. This wave will inevitably surge outward and some at sea level are going to be impacted first.
So where will the tsunami land?
No one can answer that for sure, but there are certain industries that are particularly vulnerable to AI encroachment. One of those, in a case of a machine replacing its creator in microcosm, are those working in IT, computer sciences and software engineering. A large software project can involve dozens, if not hundreds of human developers, each using slightly different code. The overall project, meanwhile, is broken down into separate goals, known as sprints and those sprints into separate tasks, known as tickets. These are overseen by senior developers and the resulting code tested by quality assurance teams to ensure that it works exactly as planned. In theory AI could replace many of those involved.
Next, the success of ChatGPT has proved the viability of large language model AI. This family of artificial intelligence is set to replace a significant number of customer service staff, with chatbots already providing assistance and filtering of calls. An argument against their use, is the lack of empathy a good customer service representative possesses. An argument for, is that they are always professional because that is what they are programmed to be and don’t suffer from staff retention issues. More than that, they will soon be substantially cheaper than a human workforce and that is not something employers are likely to overlook.
Further inland, the next industries replacement will not be imminent, but the cliff on which it sits on will soon face erosion – transportation. Globally there is a well-documented shortfall in trained drivers that coincides with a massive investment in self-driving vehicles. Major players in this field include Tesla, Uber, Ford and Mercedes Benz, but to date, they have faced problems, often publicly, such as the Tesla S that crashed in 2022 while in full self-drive mode. In 2022 alone there were four-hundred cases of autonomous vehicle crashes, all of which affected its perception.
Fusing self-drive technology with a controlling AI has the potential to make it far safer and remove the need for human drivers entirely in areas like haulage and logistics. This will not happen quickly; the public first need to accept and trust the technology. Likewise, significant investment in infrastructure will be required, raising the cost in the short term. In the mid to long term, however, AI can offer spatial perception, anticipation of potential hazards and split-second decision making at levels that far supersede a human and never get tired, sick or hungry. Added to the temptation of a massively reduced wage cost, this is likely to prove irresistible.
And the list goes on.
AI in agriculture can provide predictive analytics in real time, maximising a farms efficiency, potentially alongside day-to-day tasks like planting, harvesting, spraying, livestock monitoring and minimising negative impact on the environment. It will also require fewer human workers. The same applies to manufacturing, where AI is only likely to continue the reduction of human involvement that robotics began.
Another within the long-term path of AI could well be healthcare. More than most this would require significant buy-in from the public, but is it too much to imagine an AI carrying out many of the tasks within an overstretched, expensive and unwieldy medical system? Incrementally we are likely to see AI replace highly skilled professionals in areas like medical imaging and data analysis, all the way through to the real time monitoring of patients. It isn’t science fiction anymore to imagine AI doctors kept up to date instantly with new techniques and emerging science.
The list gets longer every day as the reckoning with AI’s potential continues: journalism, graphic design, law, education and many more could soon find themselves within its path. Where it leads is likely to be equal parts, challenging, threatening, fascinating and enduring.