Artificial intelligence a major threat to human employment, experts warn

Artificial intelligence has been developing in leaps and bounds but along with that progression comes a major threat to human employment.

The International Monetary Fund has released a survey that found AI will affect nearly half of all jobs around the world.

Experts here warn we should start preparing for a future where humans are no longer necessary.

It's been just under a year since ChatGPT by OpenAI kicked off a global AI arms race - a race that's entering a critical new stage.

"I think it's going to get scarily faster in the next six to 12 months," said tech entrepreneur Asa Cox.

"I think the next step is going to be super interesting when we move from us copiloting in with the AI to the AI running the show and we're the copilot. So then we'll change seats and then it'll get really exciting."

At Arcanum in Wellington, Cox trains AI bots to automate aspects of Kiwi businesses - like answering emails, chasing suppliers and organising logistics.

"If you had a team of interns to do all the stuff you didn't want to do, what would you get them to do? And that's all the stuff that AI can now take on," Cox said.

"And so people should be watching this and have a long list of 'What can I get rid of and what would I do with that time?' Maybe it is growing the business more, maybe it is spending more time with the family. But there's a huge volume of repetitive things that people right now don't believe that AI can take on. But it can."

But automating basic admin is just the start. In 12 months AI tools became of creating perfect videos, and the pace of progress is exponential.

The computing power driving advanced AI models is doubling every six months, and in the AI goldrush, whoever sells the shovels, reaps the rewards.

NVIDIA, the company building advanced AI chips, saw its stock price soar almost 2000 percent in five years. Now it's the 3rd most valuable company on earth.

But chatbots are just the beginning - actual bots are arriving.

"We've been able to make robots like this for quite a long time," AI Professor Michael Witbrock said.

"And what got stuck was not that we couldn't make them mechanically. It's because they just weren't smart enough to control their bodies.

"So what was going to happen is that pretty good bodies like this with AI, very smart AI, will be able to do more."

A report by the IMF estimates that currently 60 percent of all jobs in advanced economies could be disrupted by AI, and 40 percent of all jobs globally - potentially leading to mass unemployment.

Those numbers will likely increase as AI's capabilities do, and experts here warn we're running out of time to prepare.

"It is going to change the way human civilization works," Prof Witbrock said.

"The nature of work, the nature of what humans are expected to do and what machines are expected to do is going to change quite dramatically. The sooner we start to work out how our society accommodates that change, the better."

That might sound scary to some, but the potential upsides are equally transformational.

"Biology is so complicated that unaided human beings cannot possibly understand it. With AI helping us, there's a very real chance that we can completely understand biology and make diseases a thing of the past," Prof Witbrock said.

An AI-powered cure for cancer, Alzheimer's, and the automation of all the work humans hate. Sounds great, but reaching that bright AI future requires action now.

"I think everyone can agree with us, we haven't done a good job of regulating technology of the past 20, 30 years," tech policy analyst Sarah Bickerton said.

"What I would like to see is some policy-developed guardrails around the effects of AI.

"We understand the way in which technology can have negative effects, that's not an insurmountable problem for us to be able to solve."

Australia, the US, the EU and the UK all have regulatory work underway while our Government is so far taking a hands-off approach.

While how to prepare is an open question, our only certainty is that the age of AI is here and the world will never be the same.