Artificial intelligence (AI) has invaded fashion retailing, and is following you into the changerooms:
That's right -- the fitting rooms in Ralph Lauren's Polo flagship are smart. Very smart. Equipped with radio-frequency identification technology that tracks items via their tags, the room identifies every item that enters and reflects it back on the mirror that doubles as a touchscreen. Shoppers can interact with the mirror, which functions like a giant tablet, to control the lighting, request alternate items or style advice from a sales associate.
In that environment, the successful sales associate isn’t someone who fetches the red item, but this time in blue or a different size. The customer can see all that now.
The job becomes providing the customer with alternative perspectives and current pro tips. (For example, the customer might say: “This might be suitable for the convention. But for my aunt’s funeral? I can’t afford two new suits.”)
Some, of course, insist that AI can do anything people can do, but that obviously isn’t possible.
For one thing, AI consists of masses of calculations created and combined by people. Despite some questionable claims, it does not originate new information.
Your job is comparatively safe if you originate new information. That doesn’t mean inventing a new technology. It could mean knowing how to deal with:
* a frightened middle-aged man who is sure he can’t be having a heart attack when all clinical signs point to that fact
* a student who wants to drop out because all her cool friends are doing it
* serious wrong-doing by a popular co-worker
* the campaign for an unpopular but necessary reform
* a fire in the church kitchen during a child’s funeral
All these situations require one to add to the body of information from which one draws, by applying one’s own intelligence to make a difference.
AI is valuable, but it cannot originate what is unique to a time, place, and person.
National Public Radio offers a calculator, based on a study, to determine the extent to which a given job is at risk here:
What job is hardest for a robot to do? Mental health and substance abuse social workers (...). This job has a 0.3 percent chance of being automated. That's because it's ranked high in cleverness, negotiation, and helping others. The job most likely to be done by a robot? Telemarketers.
The charts accompanying the calculator explain the study authors’ reasoning, based on questions like, “Does your job require negotiation?” (Where you have to be a real person, really there, with actual authority.)
Legal secretaries, we are told, have a 97.6% chance of being automated. Medical secretaries, have an 81.5% chance of being automated.
But veterinarians have only a 6.1% chance of being automated, and landscape architects have only a 4.5% chance.
Here's the 2013 study, where the authors estimate 47% of total US employment is at risk.
Young people in particular should aim for jobs that cannot be replaced by a computer program based on the training manual.
(This article originally appeared in slightly altered form at Mercatornet. Part Two to follow next week...)
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