Rise of the Robots

Issue 10: 25/11/2022 Deputy Head of School (I. Clayton)

I am sure that we have all watched TV shows like Westworld in which robots or AI gain sentience and seek to overthrow humanity. Many movies repeat this trope and sound a warning bell for us all. It is certainly true to say that automation, machine learning and robotics are playing a larger role in our lives.

Technology is already playing a massive part both externally in the wider world and internally in the way that it might impact schools directly.For this week, I will focus on how technology might be impacting the  world outside schools.

We have all heard of driverless cars and the impact that may well have in jobs in many sectors, transport, insurance, the petroleum industry to name a few. A few years ago,  it was estimated by various organisations that by 2030 half of current jobs in the USA will be automated. The Bank of England expects that 15 million jobs will be threatened by automation. These figures are now more nuanced with less than 5% of jobs fully falling to automation, but in 60% of jobs at least 30% of the constituent activities could be automated.

These are not just the repetitive jobs on a production line but other cognitive based jobs. It seems that careers in medicine, law, banking, marketing and journalism could be affected by the rise of the robots! To cite an example or two. British computer scientists created software that was able to judge hundreds of real life legal cases. The AI ‘judge’ reached the same verdict in 79% of the cases involving torture, degrading treatment and privacy as human judges. The algorithm was able to identify patterns in cases. In medicine software is routinely able to diagnose with greater accuracy with regard to certain illnesses than humans can. For example in the case of prostate cancer AI was able to outperform the best specialists in the world when it came to diagnosis, making only 3% mistakes.  In surgery it is possible for a surgeon in Singapore to be operating on a patient in London, thousands of miles away. A report from the World Economic Forum reveals that while 43% of businesses indicate that they will reduce their workforce due to automation, some 34% say that they will expand their workforce as a result of automation. The aggregate number of jobs may not collapse as previously predicted. However, the types of jobs and the form of work is definitely going to change.

I am not sure that we have yet arrived at the point where our technology will rise up and rebel, but one thing is for sure the impact of these applications and developments will only become more profound over time.

Ian Clayton
Deputy Head of School