Over the years, movies have often featured intelligent machines ruling our lives—think Optimus Prime in Transformers, The Terminator and Sonny in I, Robot. They all had one thing in common—the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Although there is no universally accepted definition, a popular textbook defines AI as systems that think like humans, act like humans, and think and act rationally.
AI is changing our world. Many people today are already accustomed to using it in some aspects of their lives. We talk on our “smart phones,” use robotic vacuums or ask SIRI where to find the nearest grocery store.
Although the term AI was first used at a Dartmouth College conference in 1956, it was not until the last decade that advances in the technology have become more widespread.
In September 2016, five large technology companies came together to create the “Partnership on AI to benefit people and society.” They included Google, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM and Amazon. Apple joined as a founding member four months later. The non-profit organization’s website, says it was “Established to study and formulate best practices on AI technologies, to advance the public’s understanding of AI, and to serve as an open platform for discussion and engagement about AI and its influences on people and society.”
With these and other recent advances in AI, many engineers fear their jobs will be taken over by automated systems. According to a study by Oxford University, nearly half of the jobs in the United States are at risk of being automated over the next decade or two.
Is it possible for engineers to be replaced by the same systems and machines they created? It is not likely. A study on One Hundred Year Study of Artificial Intelligence, released by Stanford University in September 2016—“Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030,”—reported there is no imminent threat to workers. Instead, it is expected that the useful applications that will be the result of AI will have a positive impact on society.
Imagine special robots that clean your house or office, deliver packages or teach tutor you children in mathematics. Although routine work and simple tasks may eventually be replaced by machines, there is enormous potential for the engineering profession across all disciplines.
Many say that those with a good background in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) will continue to be in high demand. Although computers are very good at tasks that require precision and speed, such as playing chess or driving a car, computers, at least for now, can not figure out how things work. As AI continues to develop, many jobs will require collaboration between humans and computers.
Five ways in which AI may impact the engineering profession:
- History has shown that technological advances in the past have helped create new jobs. This will be especially relevant for those in the engineering community.
- With the rapid evolution of technology, there will be an increased need for engineers to research, create and test AI systems.
- Engineers have an enormous opportunity to showcase their creativity in response to advances in AI.
- New types of experts will increasingly be in demand in response to the new types of work created by AI technology.
- New developments in AI will enable engineers to complete their work more efficiently and solve a wide range of problems.
As AI continues to adapt and become part of our daily lives, engineers will not only work with this technology but be part of its development and future.
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