• Daryll Griffith

AI and T&T: What is the potential impact?

History tells us that in the long run, technology is a net creator of jobs. Is this time different? – McKinsey [1]

Artificial intelligence (AI) is here, and it is all around us. Most of us have the perception that AI is the enemy; perhaps because it's a disruptive force and because of all the sci-fi films we watch. The reality is that the technology is doing more good than we know at the moment and as it evolves, so too will our lives. It’s being deployed in health care and education systems, it's editing our selfies and becoming our personal virtual assistants, helping us make decisions and even expand our creativity in music and writing. In short, it’s evolving and impacting the global economy at a rapid pace, and if we are to survive these changes and thrive, we must look at what is happening in the world around us now and what the future may hold for T&T.

AI can be compared to major innovations in history, like the steam engine and even electricity. The evolution of the employment sector in the USA and in T&T can be better understood from the charts below.

The first graph shows net employment from the 1850’s to 2015 and from a first glance we can tell that Agriculture and Manufacturing have been affected in the USA while other sectors have netted off. All advanced economies have experienced profound sectoral shifts in employment, first in agriculture and more recently in manufacturing, even as overall employment has grown. In the United States, the agricultural share of total employment declined from 60 percent in 1850 to less than 5 percent by 1970, while manufacturing fell from 26 percent of total US employment in 1960 to below 10 percent today. Other countries have experienced even faster declines: one-third of China’s workforce moved out of agriculture between 1990 and 2015. In comparison, T&T, has also seen some shrinkage in its Manufacturing, Agriculture and Oil & Gas sectors over the period 1991-2017, however the change is not as pronounced. Throughout employment shifts of workers across several sectors, new industries and occupations have emerged to absorb workers displaced by technology.

The key difference between these past innovations and AI is the ability to not just automate simple tasks but the ability to learn and improve more complicated tasks through Machine Learning [3]. Some Venture Capitalists believe that by the year ......, 40% of the world’s jobs will be replaced by robotics or software capable of automating tasks [4]. This extends to both blue collar and white-collar professions across multiple industries. However, when looking at the trends in AI recently, we can’t only look at Agriculture, Oil & Gas and Manufacturing, as there have been several innovations in Healthcare, Retail, Financial Services, Logistics and the Retail Industry to name a few.

It is yet to be quantified how AI will impact the workforce in T&T as much as it has within other countries, however job losses due to automation is likely particularly within large companies and Multi-nationals as they seek to become more efficient to increase profit margins. History has shown new jobs or even new industries will be created to fill the gap and persons can transition into other areas or be retrained as necessary in some cases. The challenge however is the pace at which AI is evolving as Machine Learning systems are become increasingly more powerful, cheaper and new use cases are being developed all the time. Knowing this, is the key for a developing nation such as ours and we will need to properly anticipate these changes and prepare for a quick transition, because change is coming!


[1] McKinsey & Company. 2017. Five Lessons from history on AI automation and employment. November. Accessed April 14, 2019. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/five-lessons-from-history-on-ai-automation-and-employment.

[2] Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. 2019. "Labour Force Annual." The Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. April 14. Accessed April 2019, 2019. https://www.central-bank.org.tt/statistics/data-centre/labour-force-annual.

[3] The Verge. 2019. The State of AI in 2019. January 28. Accessed April 14, 2019. https://www.theverge.com/2019/1/28/18197520/ai-artificial-intelligence-machine-learning-computational-science.

[4] Fortune. 2019. A.I. Expert Says Automation Could Replace 40% of Jobs in 15 Years. Janary 10. Accessed April 2014, 2019. http://fortune.com/2019/01/10/automation-replace-jobs/.

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