As Saudi Arabia’s decision to grant citizenship to a robot makes international headlines, a top official of the Indian IT industry body says it signifies that artificial intelligence (AI) has come of age. The AI is fast reaching a stage where many of the tasks performed by humans can be done by robots, Nasscom president R Chandrashekhar told PTI. Riyadh’s recent move to give citizenship to an AI humanoid robot is more of a “symbolic gesture” meant to draw the attention to the use of technology and willingness to give technology a free play, he said. “Obviously it (granting citizenship to a human robot, named Sophia) was not required; it’s given more as a symbolic gesture,” Chandrashekhar said, adding that, however, “there are lot of ethical questions which come up”. He said: “But essentially, the grant of citizenship (to a bot) is only a sort of symbolic thing. I don’t think we should read too much into it. “But I think it also signifies that AI has come of age and reached a level comparable to human beings in performance of many tasks.” On the impact of AI on human jobs, he recalled that the advent of machines had a significant impact on how people performed physical labour and eventually they did away with some jobs. “But actually machines created many more jobs than they eliminated,” Chandrashekhar said.
Similarly, according to him, the advent of IT and software eliminated some jobs involving repetitive work but a large number of functions did not get impacted. But now with AI, the number of jobs and performance getting impacted has increased, he said. “In some way or the other, it impacts many if not most of the jobs that we see because AI is moving into the mental work space.” He added: “But I think, again, while certain jobs are getting eliminated, certain other jobs get created and may be it will take a while for full range of new jobs to mature and for these (new job) numbers to expand (as a fall out of AI).” He noted that e-commerce, for example, eliminated a lot of retail jobs but a lot of courier jobs were created, while there is no doubt that jobs are getting eliminated, new category and kinds of jobs are being created.
The kind of skills required for existing jobs are increasing dramatically. Taxi drivers have now been using GPS to find location, an increase in their skill level compared to the past, but once autonomous self-driven vehicles come, the “whole profession of drivers could get significantly reduced”, he said. While such shifts influenced by technology are already taking place globally, what has changed is the pace at which it’s happening. “In five years, there has been a dramatic change. Certain jobs are getting eliminated in the past five years, certain new jobs are getting created. And for some of the older jobs, much higher level of skills are required. All happening within five years.
“So, that sheer pace has brought in qualitative difference to the kind of impact that technology has always been making,” he said. Citing an example, Chandrashekhar said that in some countries, a large number of jobs are getting created as drone operators. “It’s a job which never existed five years ago,” he added.