AI development targets graduate jobs, causes polarisation in labour market: UK official

AI development targets graduate jobs, causes polarisation in labour market: UK official

Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, chief scientific adviser for UK’s Ministry of Defence, highlights that artificial intelligence is actually targeting jobs like accountants and lawyers rather than those like cleaning and delivery.

NUS graduation 2
National University of Singapore graduates at a commencement ceremony. (Photo: Lionel Lin)

SINGAPORE: The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on jobs and people’s livelihoods, especially those on the lower end of the skills spectrum, is an often-discussed issue, but one government official from the United Kingdom said the technology may actually be affecting graduates more.

Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, chief scientific adviser with the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence, said today’s developments in AI are automating processes in jobs like accountancy and law. These are things that tertiary institutions are currently teaching graduates, who might be the most affected by the emergence of the technology, he added.

He was speaking during a plenary session at the inaugural Singapore Defence Technology Summit on Thursday (Jun 28).

“We are not losing jobs (to AI), but the job market is being polarised,” said Prof Durrant-Whyte.

The jobs that are being created are at the “bottom end”, such as the delivery of food or cleaning services - tasks and skills that are actually quite difficult to automate, he explained. 

Hugh Durrant-Whyte and Tang Xia'ou
Prof Hugh Durrant-Whyte (second from left) and Prof Tang Xiao'ou (right) during a panel session looking at technological advancements and disruptions. (Photo: DSTA)


Another panellist, SenseTime founder Tang Xiao’ou, had a different take on the situation. 

SenseTime is a Chinese AI unicorn that in April raised US$600 million in funds from investors like Alibaba Group and Singapore state fund Temasek, and touts itself as the world’s most valuable company focused on computer vision and deep learning technologies.

Prof Tang shared that the jobs AI may be used to replace them with are “not really interesting jobs”, like product labellers.

“Farmers used to do everything manually, before machines came in and did those jobs. I don’t think these farmers are unhappy (about that),” he added.

The freed-up worker who may, for example, be a former tennis expert will be able to then pursue a job like training his children to play the sport, he added.

“There are jobs being created,” Prof Tang asserted. “(On our end,) we’re finding it difficult to hire software engineers.”

To this, Prof Durrant-Whyte replied: “There are jobs being created but they aren’t (all for) software engineers.”

For its part, Singapore launched its industry transformation map (ITM) for the professional services sector in January this year, during which it said thousands of jobs for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) are being created in new roles like cybersecurity consultants, data engineers and legal tech experts.

At the heart of this roadmap are initiatives to drive innovation and equip the workforce with skills like data science and AI over the next five to 10 years, the Economic Development Board said then.

Source: CNA/ng