Life with A.I.

The 'Oracle of A.I.': These 4 kinds of jobs won't be replaced by robots

Kai-Fu Lee at a book launch party for "AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order" in September, 2018.
Sylvain Gaboury | Patrick McMullan | Getty Images

Kai-Fu Lee has an impressive resume: He has a Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon and has been a vice president at Apple, Microsoft and Google. Today, he is the CEO of Chinese venture capital firm Sinovation Ventures and the author of the "AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order." Lee has also been dubbed the "oracle of AI" by CBS's "60 Minutes" for his leading insights about artificial intelligence.

"I believe [AI] is going to change the world more than anything in the history of mankind. More than electricity," he told CBS's Scott Pelley on Sunday.

In particular, the rise of artificial intelligence will dramatically change the labor markets, a fact that is of particular concern for many workers.

There are, however, four kinds of jobs that will be safe from the artificial intelligence revolution, Lee said in an op-ed for Time entitled, "Artificial Intelligence Is Powerful—And Misunderstood. Here's How We Can Protect Workers," which published Friday. They are:

1. Creative jobs

The creative category includes jobs like scientist, novelist and artist, says Lee.

"AI needs to be given a goal to optimize," Lee writes in Time. "It cannot invent."

While that is true, in 2018, AI used such optimization to create a portrait of a fictional person. Art collective Obvious used neural networks to scan thousands of images and then, from that information, the AI produced a new image. The result, "Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy," sold via Christie's online for sold for $432,500.

The first AI artwork to be sold in a major auction achieves $432,500 after a bidding battle on the phones and via ChristiesLive

2. Complex and strategic jobs

These include gigs like executive, diplomat and economist, says Lee. The complicated demands of these kinds of jobs "go well beyond" what computers can process, he says.

3. Empathetic and creative jobs

This category includes jobs like teacher, nanny and doctor, Lee says, noting this category of jobs is "much larger" than the others.

"These jobs require compassion, trust and ­empathy — which AI does not have. And even if AI tried to fake it, nobody would want a chatbot telling them they have cancer, or a robot to baby­sit their children," Lee writes.

Though robots might not deliver the news of a health diagnosis to patients, AI is already being used to augment the work of doctors. For example, a team of Standford University scientists used AI to determine when patients will die in order to improve access to palliative care, or to specialized care for patients who have serious illnesses.

4. 'As-yet-unknown' jobs

As AI is used more often in workplaces, new jobs will become necessary to monitor and coordinate machines and robots.

For example, in the future, semi-trucks will be able to drive themselves, tech titan Elon Musk told CNBC. And while those trucks no longer need individual drivers, there will have to be fleet operators, Musk said in 2016. "Actually, it's probably a more interesting job than just driving one [truck]," said Musk at the time.

Elon Musk: Robots will take your jobs, government will have to pay your wage
Elon Musk: Robots will take your jobs, government will have to pay your wage

Instead of these four categories, "AI will increasingly replace repetitive jobs. Not just for blue-collar work but a lot of white-collar work," Lee explains, predicting that 40 percent of jobs in the world will become "displaceable" by technology.

"Basically chauffeurs, truck drivers anyone who does driving for a living their jobs will be disrupted more in the 15- to 20-year time frame and many jobs that seem a little bit complex, chef, waiter, a lot of things will become automated, we'll have automated stores, automated restaurants."

Today's artificial intelligence is not has good as you hope and not as bad as you fear, but humanity is accelerating into a future that few can predict. That's way so many people are desperate to meet @KaiFuLee—the "Oracle of A.I."

The difference between the robot revolution and other revolutions that have disrupted the labor markets is the rate of change, says Lee.

"The invention of the steam engine, the sewing machine, electricity, have all displaced jobs. And we've gotten over it. The challenge of AI is this 40 percent, whether it is 15 or 25 years, is coming faster than the previous revolutions," he said on "60 Minutes."

And it is the role of the government and of those companies who reap the most rewards from AI to teach workers new skills, says Lee.

"The key then must be retraining the workforce so people can do them. This must be the responsibility not just of the government, which can provide subsidies, but also of corporations and AI's ultra-wealthy beneficiaries," Lee says in his Time op-ed.

China's rise in artificial intelligence
China's rise in artificial intelligence

British billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson has also suggested the spoils of the increased productivity generated by AI should be distributed, potentially even as a cash handout to those negatively affected.

"Obviously AI is a challenge to the world in that there's a possibility that it will take a lot of jobs away. ... It's up to all of us to be entrepreneurially minded enough to create those new jobs," Branson told Business Insider Nordic in 2017. "If a lot more wealth is created by AI, the least that the country should be able to do is that a lot of that wealth that is created by AI goes back into making sure that everybody has a safety net."

Still, even as AI gets better and better at completing tasks for humans, robots will not be able to fully replace humans any time soon, says Lee.

"I believe in the sanctity of our soul. I believe there is a lot of things about us that we don't understand. I believe there's a lot of love and compassion that is not explainable in terms of neural networks and computation algorithms," Lee said on "60 Minutes."

See also:

Google CEO: A.I. is more important than fire or electricity

Billionaire Warren Buffett on helping the poor: 'A rich family does not leave people behind'

Billionaire Richard Branson: Extreme wealth generated by A.I. industry should be used for cash handouts

Presidential candidate Andrew Yang is giving this New Hampshire mom $1,000 a month to show UBI works
Candidate Andrew Yang is giving this mom $1,000 a month to show UBI works

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