“Absorbing content, seeing entertainment, traveling are things that people will be doing more of,” David Swan says when asked what a future in which artificial intelligence (AI) systems are commonplace. He sees a booming health and fitness industry, people with enough time for cooking and visiting unique restaurants. He envisions a life without the day-to-day drudgery that occupies most peoples’ time now, a life where people are free to pursue their interests.
As the Managing Director of Robert Walters Japan and Korea, David Swan is in a unique position to see the changes that AI will bring to the employment landscape, as he has been overseeing his company place qualified staff in that landscape for over ten years. He led Robert Walters to rank as the No. 1 contingent financial services recruitment firm for Japan in a 2008 and 2009 Asia Money Headhunters Poll. He’s seeing AI becoming more prominent in his own profession, which has led him to track it in others as well.
“In HR and the systems related to HR increasingly there’s been a lot of job boards in the past, LinkedIn more recently, and now we’re looking at AI. We are seeing AI taking over certain parts of the recruitment process... some of the more manual type activities, administration, that sort of thing.” David says that when directed by a skilled and knowledgeable individual, AI can be a tool that greatly enhances the reach of a single person. In the same way that computers and the Internet have changed the way we handle and exchange information, he thinks AI will be able to assist people in ways that only an army of staff could previously do.
He points to accounting as an example profession that is already being impacted by AI and automation. “(It is) no longer financial statement preparation and journal entries, it is all done by the system.” He says that it frees up accountants to do more big-picture stuff. “They spend their time communicating with stakeholders, capital optimization, things like that.”
And its not just in office work. “I’ve also been talking to the country manager for caterpillar in Japan. He was talking about what’s happening in the construction area, what it means for bulldozer, front-end loader and heavy machinery operators,” Swan says. “The machines are now set up so that they’ll never hit a pipe or a power line anymore. So those sorts of accidents are not part of the equation anymore.” He also lists transportation, retail, and even journalism are being affected by AI already.
With all of this automation, one may wonder where they can fit in. If you’ve spent your life preparing financial statements, it can be disconcerting when an AI takes that job over from you. But Swan says there are critical areas in which an AI does not perform well, and those are always going to be where people shine. “Creative stuff, leadership, entrepreneurial skills – those are the things that really can’t be changed by AI,” David explains, “When it comes to things like negotiating, motivating and inspiring people... AI is not going to be able to replace those easily.” He goes on to say, “A business solves problems if they’re doing it right. AI is not good at solving problems.” And, he also says, AI is even creating new jobs. “A new industry I’ve seen start up is providing input to an AI-based system.”
David Swan is, on the whole, quite positive about the changes that he sees AI will bring. And when he says, “Most people are going to be welcoming of an AI that reduces the amount of work that you have to do,” it’s hard to argue with that.