Various applications used on smartphones are now playing the role of a guide in our daily life. If you say "OK Google" or "Hello Google" to Google Assistant, it will start working. You will hear a female voice saying, "How Can I help you?" Suppose, you need to know about traffic information before starting for the office. If you ask the application for help in this regard, it will instantly let you know what the traffic situation in your nearby areas is. You can also get the weather forecast. Or, you have an outstanding credit card bill? A messenger bot will remind you of the information.
How are all these possible?
In fact, we are standing on the threshold of an era when an invention made by our very species has started the process of changing everything in the world. Whether or not it is deliberate, we have entered the age of artificial intelligence. Still now, when we think about artificial intelligence, the science fictions and fantasies come to our mind, where one or a group of responsive machines can learn by themselves, can understand human languages, and can imitate some human features.
However, in reality, extensive research and their implications over the last couple of decades have taken artificial intelligence to such a height that the aforementioned activities of a machine are not an imagination any more. The machines we use in our everyday life are getting smarter every moment.
Artificial intelligence is not a future technology anymore. It is being used in hundreds of industries nowadays. Many banks in the world use artificial intelligence to identify fraudulent activities or to get forecast about any probable changes in share markets. Insurance companies are also using artificial intelligence in various important activities like framing policies. Artificial intelligence also helps police identify criminals by scrutinising CCTV footage. We have heard those technologies will be introduced in our country too.
A few days ago, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal announced to set up special artificial intelligence enabled cameras to make Dhaka a safe and terror-free city. Artificial intelligence will provide instant feedback by monitoring camera footages, while in the existing system a big team of officials is required for monitoring cameras in the CCTV control room of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police.
However, the main question is what the future of artificial intelligence is. Is it a blessing or a threat to us? The interesting thing is we do not know the answer.
For example, in 1980, the advent of the portable phone assured us that people will be able to make phone calls regardless of their whereabouts. At that time, the present multiple uses of mobile phone such as the use of various apps, camera and GPS access were not predicted. Similarly, the future of artificial intelligence can be different from what we are thinking at the moment.
At best, the prediction we can make about the future of artificial intelligence is that it will affect at least four major aspects of our life these are how we work, how we lead our lives, how we interact with one another, and what is our relationship with data. With the changes in technologies, the way we work is also changed quickly.
From the beginning of the industrial revolution, we have observed that the factories got full of labourers. At the same time, people have transferred their workload to machines through quick automation and thus they have struck a balance. The main purpose of technology is to minimise cost and increase production. So, we will not be surprised if business entities bring massive changes by using artificial intelligence in operating their businesses, as introducing artificial intelligence and its necessity would be compulsory for many organisations.
We have already noticed such examples. At present, many reputed organisations recruit people using artificial intelligence. According to USA-based magazine Fortune, as many as 500 well-known organisations recruit people with the help of artificial intelligence.
In this process, the candidates take part in the interview through a video call. From the video call, artificial intelligence collects information about the candidates. It is able to provide an idea about almost all of your feelings. Based on your speech, it is able to determine if you have the skills for a certain task. It can also determine if you are providing true information about yourself and if you are confident or afraid during the interview.
Through this recruiting process, the recruiting organisation get detailed information about candidates in a quicker time and more transparent way. The organisations that provide 24/7 service are inclined to introducing artificial intelligence.
The scope of human labour has been declining since long because of automation. Artificial intelligence offices have cut the number of employees for repetitive tasks. For example, artificial intelligence bots are able to continue operation at the front desk even after the office is closed. As a result, banks, e-commerce or other organisations that deal with customer complains can continue providing services during vacations.
So, more bots instead of human beings will be working in these offices in the near future. Artificial intelligence has made all these automatic operations stronger. A driverless car is a good example of this. In future, driverless vehicles will dominate the transport sector. This system will make a massive change in the way we think about transport. Just a phone call will help one get a car.
This automatic operating system will not be confined to the transport sector only. Artificial intelligence will influence our life significantly through the bots working for Amazon Go and other e-commerce websites, computer vision, machine learning, natural language processing, forecast analysis, intelligent sensors and devices.
At present, machine translation is the largest invention in machine learning which helps people learn and understand many languages. With the help of artificial intelligence, people will be able to have a conversation with others in their mother languages. These models will be able to understand the conversation and its subject and contribute significantly to remove the communication barriers. As a result, business and travel will be easier.
This is not an imaginary idea. There are signs of it in the current world. Large organisations such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, etc. have been working with artificial intelligence with success. Besides, nuclear power plants are operated by this system. It is also used in marketing, research, banking, financial service, telecommunication, health, town management, weather, cyber security and many other things. In our daily life, artificial intelligence has been joint together with other technology products.
So, the most important question is whether we are prepared to keep pace with the world of artificial intelligence. Yuval Noah Harari, a professor at Jerusalem Hebrew University, historian and author of New York Times bestseller "Sapiens", discussed the progress of human civilisation in his new book "21 Lessons for the 21 century". According to his analysis, artificial intelligence robots will replace humans by 2050.
Least developed countries like Bangladesh, which have been built with the labours of unskilled workforce have already started feeling the heat. The days of making clothes sitting in Dhaka with a lower cost and then sending it to a man in the US by air are nearing an end. Throughout the world, to decrease the lead time, many people have chosen robots. Even the leading garment industries in Bangladesh are using automated machines and robots.
A research by a2i has provided bad news of 65 percent unskilled labourers being unemployed. Though it is bad news for us, it is the reality in future. Even the "World Economic Forum" report proves the justness of the prediction made by Harari. Within 2022, as many as 7 crore people will lose their jobs because of robots. At the same time, the organisation said more than 13 crore job opportunities such as data analyst, software developer, social media specialist will be created because of technology.
Besides, many job opportunities will be created in sectors like teaching and nursing where humane qualities are required. For example, after the pilotless military aircraft or drone was invented a fewer pilot are required in the US army.
However, until 2013, there was a want of skilled manpower who could operate drones from the ground. So, though robots replace human being in the workplace, some opportunities are created for people with different types of skills. According to Harari, amid crores of unemployed people, their anxiety in the workplace and hopelessness, it is skills that can ensure employment in the future.
A farmer can work at a factory if he loses his land. A labourer from a closed factory can work as a cleaner in a shopping mall. Even he loses the job at the shopping mall he can work as an accountant in a small business entity. But, any labourer who lost his job at a factory or shopping mall is not likely to be recruited by the police for monitoring the security cameras and analysing data.
Thus, the necessity of low skilled labourer is decreasing all over the world. They will be unnecessary like the coachmen in the 1990s in Dhaka. So, we have to continuously find new labour markets for employment.
As many as 460 young girls in Metiburz have helped train artificial intelligence about the algorithm related to augmented reality and computer vision used for driverless vehicles manufactured by Amazon, Microsoft, eBay, Trip Advisor, etc.
The women centre is one of the eight centres run by India and USA-based data annotation company Imerit. With 2,200 local employees, the company is working with a massive amount of data of industries, medical imaging, driverless vehicle, agriculture and insurance office. This operation is the part of gradually increasing data labelling industry which has created employment for more than hundred thousands of low-income people in Kenya, India, the Philippines.
Huge employment will be created in this sector until 2050. So, taking the right steps is more important than rapid growth. The industry-academy discoordination is our main problem which means our academies cannot fulfil the demand of manpower required in the industries. Let alone robotics, one cannot take the names of five qualified institutes that provide computer education in Bangladesh.
Sofia, one of the human robots in the world, visited Bangladesh. It also talked to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. These Sofias are a human creation. And, a human being can take these machines beyond human capacity. For this purpose, we need to improve our skills. Apart from academic education, e-governance, service delivery, public policy and implementation, information and communication technology, decentralisation, urban development planning, cloud server, internet of things, artificial intelligence, robotics and other future-oriented technology education should be strengthened.
The author is the CEO of MCC Limited and former director of BASIS. He can be reached at [email protected]