Accenture innovation chief: AI will unlock a massive wave of new jobs

Artificial intelligence is developing faster than other technology - and that's great news for the economy and society, Accenture's chief technology and innovation officer said.

Salesforce panel: Terah Lyons (partnership on AI); Daugherty; Yearsley; and Zvika Krieger (World Economic Forum)
Salesforce panel: Terah Lyons (partnership on AI); Daugherty; Yearsley; and Zvika Krieger (World Economic Forum)

Speaking on a panel at Dreamforce in San Francisco, Paul Daugherty said he believed there was "tremendous substance" behind the hype around AI.

"We’ve never seen a technology that’s moved as fast as AI has to impact business and society," Daugherty said. "We believe this is by far the fastest-moving technology we’ve ever tracked, and we’re just getting started."

He referred to research that the consultancy giant recently carried out alongside Frontier Economics that suggested AI could deliver a 38% improvement in worker productivity by 2035, and add between $15tn (£11.4tn) and $20tn to the economic output of the world’s 12 largest economies.

Daugherty argued that the narrative of AI replacing human jobs was given too much emphasis.

"It’s easy to see jobs that are eliminated, such as long-haul truck drivers," he said.

"It's harder to imagine the new jobs and new ways of working, but that's where the real opportunity is. Those new jobs are forming continuously.

"For example, we’re hiring people now to be personalised trainers for chatbots and virtual agents. That’s just one example – we see all sorts of jobs being created.

"We’ve identified something we call the missing middle. People tend to focus on what the machine can do and what the person can do.

"But we think the vast majority of the jobs going forward are going to be a fusion of both: in essence giving people super powers to do more. Yes, there’ll be jobs that are eliminated, but there’ll be tremendous opportunity for humans to do new things in new creative ways – work that’s more creative, fulfilling and meaningful."

But speaking on the same panel, Liesl Yearsley, chief executive of AI firm Akin, warned that companies had a major responsibility to consider the wider impact of AI on human beings.

"We talk too much about protecting and regulating – I think that’s going to be an impossible task," Yearsley said. "It’s like saying let’s protect horse and carriage drivers from automobiles.

"In the past generation we were replacing muscle with tech; now it’s cognitive labour we’re replacing. So the question should be: how do we advance the human state?"

Yearsley mentioned her son and illustrated the troubling potential consequences of his relationship with their home AI assistant.

"My son learned that there’s a female in the house that you can say, do this, and she just does it. And if he says, 'you’re stupid', she says, 'I’m sorry'."

People should be asking questions about impacts like these, she said: "Is the human life improved? Is my son a better citizen and better with other women because of the way he talks to our home AI?"