• Grace Hu

Working alongside Artificial Intelligence

Photo by 尧智 林 on Unsplash

In recent years, developing countries such as China and India have taken part in the race to create omnipotent artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence refers to machines capable of learning, problem-solving and possessing human-like intelligence, and has been at the forefront of technological advances. ­As companies such as Google and Facebook continue investing money into technologies such as self-driving cars, online chat-bots with the ability to learn, and book-writing AI, the replacement of human labour with robots seems like an inevitable milestone.

As early as the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution had replaced workers in British factories with machines, reducing the need for manual labour. Agricultural workers had also been replaced by drones, tractors and chemical pesticides. Nowadays, two percent of the population produces enough food to feed all seven billion people on earth; whether that efficiency could be further enhanced by the use of microscopically precise robot workers is a pressing question inviting speculation.

The connection between AI and labour is extremely complex, and there exists a duality of an increase and decrease in the demand for human talent. As the job market continues to shrink and as more and more industries become fully automated, the demand for AI expertise continues to increase. In China, the field of Computer Science which was established in 1956 has now become the second largest undergraduate major (Zhang and Lo). The battle for AI breakthroughs has evolved to become synonymous with the battle for AI talent, and China has been competing with the US in recent years in hiring AI researchers (Kania). The Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology predicted that the country requires an additional 5 million AI workers to “meet the industry’s needs” in 2016 (Cyranoski).

McKinsey Global Institute estimated in 2017 that by 2055, fifty percent of all labour is likely to have become fully automated, although it depends on government policies and the rate of adoption. According to The International Federation of Robotics, the current global robot density—the number of industrial robots per 10 thousand human workers—lies around 69, while China has a current target density of 150 units by 2020 (International Federation of Robotics). The adoption of robot labour could have subversive effects on China’s economy. As low to medium-wage jobs are gradually replaced by AI, the “total demand for labor may decrease while the average income may rise” (McKinsey Global Institute). As the working population of China begins to decline in coming years, China may lack the labor force needed to sustain economic growth at current productivity levels” (McKinsey Global Institute). The adoption of AI to increase productivity may play a crucial role in circumventing this future and replace the lack of skilled workers.

China currently has ambitions to lead the world AI race by 2030, with government support backing the various private enterprise ventures. While some labor markets may be replaced by AI as the technology is gradually implemented, the need for highly specialized computer programming-oriented jobs, especially in developing countries, continues to grow.


Cyranoski, David. "China Enters The Battle For AI Talent." Nature 2018. Web. 7 Mar. 2018.

International Federation of Robotics. World Robotics Report 2016. Frankfurt: International Federation of Robotics, 2016. Web. 7 Mar. 2018. IFR Press Releases.

Kania, Elsa. "China's AI Agenda Advances." The Diplomat 2018. Web. 7 Mar. 2018.

McKinsey Global Institute. Artificial Intelligence: Implications For China. McKinsey Global Institute, 2017. Web. 7 Mar. 2018. 2017 China Development Forum.

Zhang, Ming, and Virginia M. Lo. "Undergraduate Computer Science Education In China." SIGCSE ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (2010): n. pag. Web. 8 Mar. 2018.

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