DURHAM – What impact will artificial intelligence and machine learning have on the labor market?
Most jobs won’t disappear, they will just be very different, said IBM’s Martin Fleming, chief analytics officer and chief economist during his keynote address at NC Tech’s State of Tech event in Durham.
Fleming leads IBM’s initiative to become the world’s premier Cognitive Enterprise. A Cognitive Enterprise is a business model transformation that employs machine learning, artificial intelligence and cognitive systems to improve decision making and, as a result, financial performance.
Technology disrupting work has  happened before, he said. “In the early 1900s, 40 percent of the labor market worked in agriculture. Now, its 2 or 3 percent. But we still have farmers. It’s just very different than it was 120 years ago.”
The only job that actually disappeared is “elevator operator,” he said, and even there, the U.S. Congress still has them. “Which may say something about Congress,” he quipped.
We worry about job losses because we are conditioned by the use of robotics in manufacturing, Fleming said. “AI and Watson’s capabilities are completely different. It learns. It reasons. It understands. It is a fundamentally different technology that increases the productivity of workers.”
That’s actually necessary for a growing economy because the labor market is aging and “we aren’t making as many babies,” he said. “The labor market is shrinking, so we have to shift to productivity. Demographics are putting enormous pressure on the productivity side..”
So, he pointed, out:  “A small number of jobs occupations may disappear, but the way we do jobs will change.”

New education model as AI expands

It will be necessary to engage in social and political transformations to take full advantages of cognitive technologies, he added, such as focusing on a a new educational model.
IBM’s P-Tech six year high school program is one example of business and education working together to address that, he said. “We have to be thinking ahead. Already today, many workers lack the skills for the jobs available, he noted.
Artificial intelligence is already in common use in two main areas, both large opportunities for its further development, Fleming said.
Improving sales is the first of the two most common uses of AI, and most people are already familiar with its use in recommendation engines at sites such as Amazon, he said. When you buy something, the site shows you other products you may like based on AI algorithms.
“We do the same thing to help our clients know what the next thing their customers might be interested in,” said Fleming. AI can also help predict which sales leads will produce the best outcome.
It even helps determine the pricing that will appeal to customers seeking a hotel room.

Supply chain impact

The second area where AI is already playing a major role is the supply chain – whether manufacturing or services. AI makes it possible to analyze large amounts of data from various vendors, so the supply chain can be managed efficiently.
IBM’s Watson, its AI engine, is also being applied in healthcare, in fields such as cardiology and precision oncology, Fleming said.
It’s even being tested as a diagnostic tool at the University of North Carolina health system and improves the ability of doctors to do accurate diagnosis and clinical care. “It improves their ability to do their work,” Fleming said.
“We’re committed to augmenting human intelligence to improve the productivity of people and organizations.”