AI and robots threaten to unleash mass unemployment


Dear Editor,

I am writing to express my views on the letter “AI and robots threaten to unleash mass unemployment”, in which the writer claimed that a major part of the human working force will be replaced by automatons and machines in the years to come. However, I disagree with the writer’s statement. In the following, I will explain why.

To begin with, there is no certain answer that AI and robots would eliminate the human working force, but real examples do show that they offer great assistance to us instead of expelling us from our businesses.  Let’s give several examples to start with. The most common robots would be ATMs. In the 1990s, the US banks started installing ATMs.  It caused some human tellers to leave their workplace. This is true.  The banks at the time had 13 employees on average, down from 20. However, this also encouraged the parent banks to open new branches and that the total employment of the tellers actually went up.  This not only applies to the banking field, similar stories could be found in fields like health care, law and education. It is certainly hard to anticipate what will possibly happen to the future of the human working force. It is understandable that humans would imagine being replaced seeing that technology keeps advancing and showing the ability to do tasks humans could do, or even better. However, if we see them as our assistants and our fellow workers but not our competitors, we can seize the opportunity to expand our business but not being replaced. Besides, robots could excel in tasks humans do though, one should not ignore that robots are not humans; they cannot replicate all human qualities, interpreting all subtle interactions among fellow humans, which are essential in all work fields. This is why AI and robots could not threaten mass unemployment.

Which brings us to my next point, robots are not humans. The most obvious difference between men and robots are the emotional aspect. There have been debates on whether AI and robots could replace doctors.  Some may state that since robots could give a much higher efficiency and accuracy on diagnosing diseases and sickness, and human doctors could be eliminated on the working field.  However, I must disagree on this statement.  Yes, robots certainly could give a much higher accuracy on diagnosis; however, it could not give a more human feeling to the patients, which is what makes the patients feel more at ease in a hospital.  Although some with enough knowledge on the IT field may argue that in the AI research area today, emotional intelligence has been tested, and could already recognize emotions on faces much better than humans.  However, delivering diagnosis and discussing adequate therapy with patients is not about acknowledging the emotions the patient has, it is more about the sensitivity on your patients, and no matter how skilled your medical robot is, they could not acquire the  skill of having enough sensitivity on your patient to make them comfortable discuss their treatment with you.

With the above reasons, it leaves a question, why not let the robots do what they are good at and humans do what we are good at? Take doctors as an example. Robots and AI’s excel in high efficiency and accuracy, so why not let AI take over the research department, and assist the doctors to give out an accurate diagnosis, perhaps even the appropriate therapy. Or even the doctors could validate the AI proposal and deliver the final message to the patients. AI is not the one who would most certain to destroy our jobs. They are the one which could assist us and allow human’s to perform better with a higher efficiency.  In 2017, Walmart announced they were beginning to test shelf scanning robots at 50 locations. These robots are not to replace human workers but to make them more efficient. The robots free employees from tasks like walking aisles looking for out of stock products and allow them to focus their time on filling the shelves, replacing wrongly placed items and fixing problems robots notify them of. This increases efficiency but not removes the human working force. Thus it proves mass unemployment would not appear soon.

Therefore, I do not agree with the writer’s opinion, and I believe in the future, humans and AI would be able to work together.

Yours faithfully

Chris Wong