Artificial intelligence tops agenda at Wuzhen World Internet Conference

Experts say the technology is set to reshape the employment market

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 November, 2016, 6:44pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 November, 2016, 10:35pm

Some of the world’s leading technology professionals have gathered for the third World Internet Conference, being held in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, and top of everyone’s agenda is the booming growth of artificial intelligence (AI), as it continues to penetrate every aspect of business and daily life.

From customer services to wealth management, to reshaping the jobs market by replacing low-skilled workers, the sector is growing at an unprecedented pace, said analysts gathered for the event.

Big names speaking during the three-day forum include Facebook’s vice president Vaughan Smith and smartphone maker Huawei’s chief executive Richard Yu. Senior officials from Baidu, Tencent, and Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post, are also attending.

Hyde Chen, an analyst with UBS’ chief investment office, told the Post the biggest issue facing the image of the AI sector is balancing the numbers of those being put out of work by the technology, with the jobs being created in its development.

“Jobs with three characteristics are at high risk of being replaced: low-skilled roles, those doing repetitive tasks, and jobs that are predictable. AI [applications] will be doing these jobs in a more effective way in future,” Chen said.

The Swiss bank has forecast that about 50 million to 75 million jobs will be affected or eventually be replaced by AI in the next few years globally.

“AI will also bring disruptive changes to industries such as manufacturing, retail and financial industries. So employers will raise their requirement and want more personalised staff who can be more creative and have unique talents,” he said.

Citing so-called “robo-advisors” as an example – a label for digitising asset management websites which offer financial guidance based on algorithms – Chen said their expansion shows how AI can provide automated advice, adding that many financial advisors in the retail banking sector are already using the technology.

Jobs in three characteristics are at high risk of being replaced: low-skilled roles, those doing repetitive tasks, and jobs that are predictable. AI will be doing these jobs in a more effective way in future
Hyde Chen, analyst with UBS’ chief investment office

Wealth management services for high-net-worth clients, however, will always need the human touch, or more experienced and skillful advisers, who can handle clients’ emotion and more complicated issues like family succession, he said.

Financial institutions, including UBS, are also already looking into the opportunities that robo-advisors could offer the start-up sector.

Lee Kai-fu, a veteran tech investor who founded venture capital firm Sinovation Ventures, told a forum last week that AI is changing every profession and industry.

A former senior executive at both Google and Microsoft in China, Lee expects AI to reduce job numbers in everything from the security industry to medicine, but said he was confident development jobs will keep pace.

He said one of the massive benefits of AI is ridding workplaces of repetitive and non-productive tasks allowing humans to take up more complicated work.

Hao Jian, a chief consultant at online recruiter Zhaopin.com, said so far a lot of low-skilled or repetitive job sectors, such as telesales and customers services, have yet to see any significant drop in numbers as AI technology is not mature enough to replace the human.

“Some employers, however, have already begun to pay a lot more attention to creativity and innovation skills when recruiting young staff or graduates,” he added.

business-article-page