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Is versatility what will preserve our jobs vs. AI?

In a very interesting analysis about "What jobs can human beings do that robots cannot?", UBS has asked several Nobel prizes in economy to share their views about the future of jobs and our ability, as human beings, if not to keep our current jobs, at least to keep and improve our employability.

Christopher Pissarides, Nobel laureate in 2010, reminds us that "there are estimates that 50% of the jobs could be affected by AI". However, this is not the first time humanity is threatened in its core operating mode. The irruption of cars, electricity and telephone at the heart of the second industrial revolution in the late nineteenth and the early twentieths century was a true revolution and phased out many jobs - not counting the millions of horses that were no longer necessary.

The key words are probably transition and cooperation. There has always been job destruction and job creation with technology. However the magnitude of the shift threatens millions of traditional jobs, from truck drivers to bank employees. Then the question becomes: how fast is this going to happen? The faster, the more brutal will be the social consequences.

The challenge for our societies is to be able to prepare for a smooth transition through education - to train people for jobs which still have a future - and by finding ways to cooperate with the robots. This concept of "cobots" might take more and more importance in the future. The only way to keep some jobs might be to learn how to cooperate with robots. And to use robots in your job to get the best of both worlds: the intuition, empathy, imagination of humans, the speed and systematic data processing abilities of the robots.

According to UBS, "regulation also has a large part to play in ensuring that the transition to a new type of robot-enabled economy is a smooth one". Economist Finn Kydland thinks that “it may take a while for the educational system to adapt to the new situation and make sure that the right skills are available.”

According to Pissarides, “the biggest and most important role is the versatility that human beings have that robots don’t have". General AI seems to be still far away. The day AI becomes truly versatile, our jobs will really be at risk. Will that happen?

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