The Most Lucrative Jobs and the Wave of AI Technology

It came as a shock to many this week when M.I.T. announced their plan for a $1 billion investment in a school for artificial intelligence. M.I.T. is not alone in this endeavor, as almost every major university is hard at work in trying to adapt to the technological wave of artificial intelligence (AI). Hopefully, our own Emory is currently pursuing a plan to expand its courses in this area, too. 

For those who have familiarity with this industry, M.I.T.’s announcement should come with no surprise. The supply of experts is very limited, while the demand for AI researches has been growing at a logarithmic rate. Even finding professors that can train the next generation of designers and researchers is now a challenge. This has resulted in the salaries of all practicing AI researchers, and even those with minimal knowledge in the field, to rise astronomically. For example, in 2016, there was a rumor that Ilya Sutskever was offered a $1.9 million sign-on bonus while Ian Goodfellow received more than $800,000 in agreeing to change employers. Some of these fees were offered by nonprofit companies like OpenAI.Despite these lucrative offers, however, OpenAI and similar nonprofit companies are not attracting the best talent in the field. The truth is that many researchers prefer to work for startups or smaller publicly traded companies. This is because stock option packages offered by some for-profit companies create the hope for some of these researchers that they may become the next “dot com” era type millionaires and billionaires. Even the starting salaries of newly college graduates have become incredibly lucrative in this area. 

With the type of talent and investment concentrating in this area, it is certain that AI will change our lives in an unbelievable manner in just a matter of years. The past couple of decades alone has seen the rise of inventions such as the Internet and cellular mobile technology, which have reshaped the lives of millions of people. AI will only push that advancement further. Unlike the creation of robots, which mainly intended for the automation of industrial manufacturing and increased efficiency by performing tasks that were mechanical, repetitive and routine in nature, the new AI machines aim to replace the human mind. Soon AI technology may take over a range of activities such as driving cars, stock trading, accounting, insurance, and even certain aspects of health care. Some companies are even creating robots so realistic in appearance that they can hardly be differentiated from actual human beings. This arouses a sense of excitement that is tinged with a feeling of malaise.       

The future has arrived and every bad cartoon and science fiction movie has found us in our current reality. There is something very surreal, even today, in the developments of AI. The future seems even more terrifying. Our parents fear that their jobs will soon be replaced. Some of them still remember the Jetson’s cartoon in which breadwinner George Jetson’s only job was to push a single button every day. The absurdity that was once supposed to be a parody in Jetsons, is becoming ours and our parents’ new reality.

The implications have already filled the paranoiacs with anxiety. Some are already forming ranks and fighting the change to decelerate technology’s impending steps forward. They argue that the effects of AI cannot be measured purely based on productivity, efficiency or comfort. Instead, they point out that work is more than just a livelihood and that productive employment has a direct effect on everyone’s emotional wellbeing. 

There are groups of sociologists and scientists that are pushing for regulations against artificial intelligence. But the reality is that the evolution of technology has its own momentum. There is no way to refute discoveries once made or slow the progress of science once inventions are made. Many have tired to no end - even well before Galileo. Once the Genie is out of the bottle, it can no longer be contained but can be skillfully managed. It is true that AI will kill many jobs, same as IBM computers once did. Nonetheless, AI will also create new ones, just as IBM computers once did. AI may even create more jobs than it will destroy. The only unfortunate part is that the jobs that would get eliminated are not necessarily the same as those that get created. This displaces the older, or less technologically educated workers from the job market. In a global context, this may even result in a workforce shift from one country to another or from one continent to the next. The social and economic effects of such drastic changes are also unpredictable. 

In the end, however, even these seismic social and economic shifts are dealt with in a positive and beneficial manner. If history is any indicator, technology will change and improve our lives continuously. We cannot stop progress, but we can remain cognizant and vigil in anticipating its risks and trying to minimize its harm while enjoying its bounty. There will be pain along with progress. At the end of the day, it will all be worth it because of our ascent as a species.