Why AI could destroy more jobs than it creates, and how to save them

Automation may be destroying jobs faster than it's creating new ones, but all hope isn't lost. TechRepublic spoke to Erik Brynjolfsson on changing the course of the future.

Erik Brynjolfsson has a dream of the future. Or perhaps more accurately, a nightmare.

A vision of a world where computers entrench the power of a wealthy elite and push the majority into poverty. A world where the rising tide of technology doesn't lift all boats, but sucks under all but the biggest ships.

Brynjolfsson is an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and co-author of The Second Machine Age, a book that asks what jobs will be left once software has perfected the art of driving cars, translating speech and other tasks once considered the domain of humans.

Dystopia is only one outcome foreseen by Brynjolfsson, but why does he even think it's a possibility?

New technology has upended industries for millennia. But the advent of the power loom or steam engine didn't permanently rob men of labour. So what makes today different? For Brynjolfsson it is the pace at which digital technologies grow in power, together with signs that computers are already diminishing the role of human labour.

The exponential rise in the capabilities of computer chips was famously noted by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, who spotted that the number of transistors packed into a chip doubles about every 18 months. In the 40-plus years since he made that observation the transistor count of computer processors has climbed from 2,300 to more than four billion, and with each doubling comes a leap in the sophistication of the logic the chip can handle.

"The accumulated doubling of Moore's Law, and the ample doubling still to come, gives us a world where supercomputer power becomes available to toys in just a few years, where ever-cheaper sensors enable inexpensive solutions to previously intractable problems, and where science fiction keeps becoming reality," Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, associate director of the Center for Digital Business at MIT, write in the book.

"Sometimes a difference in degree (in other words, more of the same) becomes a difference in kind (in other words, different than anything else). The story of the second half of the chessboard alerts us that we should be aware that enough exponential progress can take us to astonishing places," the book continues.

baxter.jpg
Baxter is a robot made for manufacturing environments that can perform a variety of repetitive tasks.
 Image: Rethink Robotics

Brynjolfsson identifies various astonishing technologies lining up to encroach on human labour. Take Rethink Robotics' Baxter, a robotic humanoid torso complete with arms, claw-like grips and a head with an LCD face. Baxter is designed to replace factory line workers employed in repetitive but as-yet-unautomated tasks, such as inserting large components into circuit boards. Baxter can be trained to carry out new jobs far more simply than its robotic predecessors, primarily by taking its arm and guiding it to where it needs to pick up and drop items. His 'hands' can be swapped out for suctions cups or different grippers to allow him to take on different tasks. That flexibility and rapid retraining, together with Baxter's low price relative to other industrial robots, opens up the possibility of automating a swathe of new roles.

However, Baxter is but one mechanised usurper Brynjolfsson sees waiting in the wings. In the warehouse there are Kiva Systems' knee-high bots designed to lift items from shelving, in the office the Double telepresence robot, and of course the superstars of advanced computing, Google's self-driving car, and IBM's quiz-showing winning Watson.

Brynjolfsson points out that the rate of technological change is of a different order in the information age to the industrial revolution.

"I think it's going to require a similar level of overall change but it's probably going to have to happen faster. The steam engine was a remarkable breakthrough and really set off the industrial revolution, but as we say in the book it doubled in power and efficiency approximately once every 70 years and quadrupled after 140 years," he said.

"The computer processor doubles in power every 18 months, 10 times greater every five years, it's a very different scale of advancement and it's affecting a broader set of the economy than the steam engine did, in terms of all the cognitive tasks. It's happening a lot faster and more pervasively than before."

But is it correct to link the rate of societal change, and of advances in artificial intelligence, to the breakneck pace at which processors are becoming more powerful? Not everyone agrees.

"Unlike much of the 20th century we're now seeing a falling ratio of employment to population." Erik Brynjolfsson

Nick Jennings, professor of Computer Science at Southampton University has years of experience working with agent-based computing and intelligent systems. He doesn't foresee runaway advances in the field of AI that will reverberate throughout the rest of society.

"[I don't see] major shifts, no," said Jennings. "I see a gradual increase in automation and a gradual increase in the software tools that people have to support them in their day-to-day work. I don't see any non-linearities, I see processing getting better, speeds getting better, more data becoming available and us running more complicated algorithms on that data. I don't see anything that is going to cause a phase change or a disjunction in one go.

"Barring a quantum computing appearing, something that really would change the game for everything. I think standard breakthroughs that everyone is going to see, steady, inexorable progress," he added.

Are people already losing out to tech in the workplace?

Even with computing technologies improving at that "steady, inexorable" rate, jobs may be being destroyed faster than they are created.

For most of the second half of the twentieth century the economic value generated in the US - the country's productivity - grew hand-in-hand with the number of workers. But in 2000 the two measures began to diverge. From the turn of the century a gap opened up between productivity and total employment. By 2011, that delta had widened significantly, reflecting continued economic growth but no associated increase in job creation.

labor-productivity.png
 Image: Erik Brynjolfsson/Andrew McAfee - The Second Machine Age. Jared Bernstein/Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

"Unlike much of the 20th century we're now seeing a falling ratio of employment to population and that's something that concerns us. We don't think it's inevitable but we do think that many of the underlying trends in technology are likely to accelerate this so it's something we need to pay some serious attention to," said Brynjolfsson.

That schism manifests in other disparities. Over the past quarter of a century the income gap between the richest and the poorest in OECD countries has continued to widen. Today the average income of the richest in these countries is nine times that of the poorest.

And it's not the only stat that spotlights the widening inequality. For the first time since the Great Depression, over half the total income in the United States went to the top 10 percent of Americans in 2012. On top of that, between 1973 and 2011 the median hourly wage in the US barely changed, growing by just 0.1 percent per year.

This wealth gap isn't restricted to America. In Sweden, Finland and Germany, income inequality has grown more quickly over the past 20 to 30 years than in the US.

The book states:

"Production in the second machine age depends less on physical equipment and structures and more on the four categories of intangible assets: intellectual property, organizational capital, user-generated content, and human capital," the book states, going on to point out that in the US, the share of GDP going to labor has declined over the past decade, falling to its lowest point in the third quarter of 2010, 57.8 percent.

"As The Nobel Prize-winning economist Wassily Leontief agreed, stating definitively in 1983 that 'the role of humans as the most important factor of production is bound to diminish in the same way that the role of horses in agricultural production was first diminished and then eliminated by the introduction of tractors'."

median-income.png
 Image: Erik Brynjolfsson/Andrew McAfee - The Second Machine Age

The prediction that society is heading towards a period of technological unemployment was made decades ago by John Maynard Keynes, who forecast it as an inevitable outcome of society discovering ways to make labour more efficient more rapidly than finding new uses for labour.

"There's no economic law that says 'You will always create enough jobs or the balance will always be even', it's possible for a technology to dramatically favour one group and to hurt another group, and the net of that might be that you have fewer jobs," said Brynjolfsson.

Which jobs are at risk?

So what sort of jobs does Brynjolfsson think will fall before software automation and the ability of computer systems to spot patterns in vast stores of data? Unsurprisingly, it's those tasks that are routine and easily defined.

"These middle-skilled structured tasks, routine information processing tasks will continue to be under a lot of pressure: bookkeepers, travel agents, legal aids -- maybe not lawyers or attorneys but the first level associates. I already talked to one big law firm and they said they're not hiring as many of those sorts of people because a machine can scan through hundreds of thousands or millions of documents and find the relevant information for a case or a trial much more quickly and accurately than a human can," said Brynjolfsson.

Beyond these roles Brynjolfsson pictures call centre operators gradually being replaced by question-answering, automated systems - born of a marriage between IBM's Jeopardy-winning system Watson and Apple's Siri virtual assistant. He also foresees some driving roles being reduced to babysitting a computer that controls the vehicle for the majority of the journey -- freeing up the human driver to complete other tasks.

Brynjolfsson is talking about the near future, but wind forward a couple of decades and the successors to the deep learning and other artificial intelligence techniques of today could have automated away half of the jobs that exist in the US today.

That's the prediction of Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne from Oxford Martin School & Faculty of Philosophy in the UK.

"According to our estimate, 47 percent of total US employment is in the high risk category, meaning that associated occupations are potentially automatable over some unspecified number of years, perhaps a decade or two," they predict in the report The Future of Employment.

During the coming decades they forecast two "waves of computerisation" during which different categories of jobs will be washed away, with no field of employment left untouched.

"In the first wave, we find that most workers in transportation and logistics occupations, together with the bulk of office and administrative support workers, and labour in production occupations, are likely to be substituted by computer capital.

"According to our estimate, 47 percent of total US employment is in the high risk category, meaning that associated occupations are potentially automatable" Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne

"As computerised cars are already being developed and the declining cost of sensors makes augmenting vehicles with advanced sensors increasingly cost-effective, the automation of transportation and logistics occupations is in line with the technological developments documented in the literature.

"Furthermore, algorithms for big data are already rapidly entering domains reliant upon storing or accessing information, making it equally intuitive that office and administrative support occupations will be subject to computerisation.

"The computerisation of production occupations simply suggests a continuation of a trend that has been observed over the past decades, with industrial robots taking on the routine tasks of most operatives in manufacturing. As industrial robots are becoming more advanced, with enhanced senses and dexterity, they will be able to perform a wider scope of non-routine manual tasks. From a technological capabilities point of view, the vast remainder of employment in production occupations is thus likely to diminish over the next decade."

They also predict disruption to jobs in services industries from personal and household services robots, automation of more routine sales roles, such as cashier and telemarketers, and from prefabrication of buildings to construction jobs.

Even qualities held up as intrinsically human, such as aspects of creativity, may not always remain beyond the capacity of machines. In the 1950s a young chess prodigy performed a chess move feted as a feat of exceptional human ingenuity during a match dubbed The Game of the Century. Yet, as Brynjolfsson points out in the book, today that same move will be carried out by any run of the mill chess program when presented with the same board. As he puts it: "Sometimes, one man's creativity is another machine's brute-force analysis." As computers continue to advance in power, even with the slowing of Moore's Law, brute-force analysis becomes viable for a much wider set of problems.

Digital creation vs destruction

Once a technology can be delivered digitally, it can advance at the heady rate made possible by Moore's Law. When this happens, the chances are its capabilities will increase in leaps and bounds while its costs fall in tandem.

Brynjolfsson explores the idea that digital technology can drastically reduce the cost of technologies, as well as the infrastructure and people needed to support them.

Take digital photography. As Brynjolfsson and McAfee point out, in an age where our photos sit on hard drives rather than in ring-bound albums, the need for a large number of workers disappears.

"These photos are all digital, so hundreds of thousands of people who used to work making photography chemicals and paper are no longer needed. In a digital age, they need to find some other way to support themselves," they write.

automationprobability.png
 Image: Oxford Martin School & Faculty of Philosophy

"Companies like Instagram and Facebook employ a tiny fraction of the people that were needed at Kodak. Nonetheless, Facebook has a market value several times greater than Kodak ever did and has created at least seven billionaires."

This hollowing out of supporting infrastructure can be seen repeated in multiple industries.

"Once the algorithms are digitised they can replicated and delivered to millions of users at almost zero cost."

The authors also see this journey to near-free delivery as a positive -- reducing the cost of using that technology to the point where it is accessible to much larger numbers of people, empowering them to build new businesses. Look at how the web led to an explosion in online companies. Or look at how it has led to an explosion of courses taught by some of the world's most prestigious institutions and now freely available online.

However, this technological bounty, as Brynjolfsson calls it, may not be sufficient to offset increases in the cost of living. While the cost of taking photos may have plummeted the same cannot be said of many essentials people need to survive -- food, drink and fuel. The book cites research by Jared Bernstein, who compared increases in median family income in the US between 1990 and 2008 with changes in the cost of housing, healthcare, and college. He found that while family income grew by around 20 percent during that time, prices for housing and college grew by about 50 percent, and health care by more than 150 percent.

Which roles could flourish in the age of machines?

Job prospects are not equally gloomy for every profession according to Brynjolfsson as well as the study by Oxford Martin School & Faculty of Philosophy.

They identify three broad areas of human endeavour that will be resilient to automation in the short to medium term.

"There's no economic law that says 'You will always create enough jobs or the balance will always be even." Erik Brynjolfsson

Manual roles

Despite many manual roles being low-paid, this type of work is likely to remain surprisingly resistant to automation. Some of the jobs that are poorly compensated today remain exceptionally tricky for robots, as even simple manual tasks like walking over uneven terrain are beyond the capabilities of most modern bots. The phenomenon is known as Moravec's Paradox, an observation by leading AI researchers in the 1980s that computers found hard the tasks we found easy and vice versa. While it might take a human seconds to fold a towel, a robot made to carry out the task in 2010 took nearly 25 minutes.

As the book points out: "Results like these indicate that cooks, gardeners, repairmen, carpenters, dentists, and home health aides are not about to be replaced by machines in the short term. All of these professions involve a lot of sensorimotor work, and many of them also require the skills of ideation, large-frame pattern recognition, and complex communication."

"Machines are very clumsy when you think about it. They don't have the agility, and few if any robots could pick up a dime that's on a desk, even though a two or three-year-old person could do that," said Brynjolfsson.

Creative

"Digital technologies are in many ways complements, not substitutes for, creativity," said Brynjolfsson.

"If somebody comes up with a new song, a video, or piece of software there's no better time in history to be a creative person who wants to reach not just hundreds or thousands, but millions and billions of potential customers.

"That's great news for a lot of people who are becoming millionaires or even billionaires by using their creativity to create new products and services that can be digitised," he added.

Interpersonal

"Machines are not very good at motivating, nurturing, caring and comforting people. Human interactions are something that are important but, so far at least, machines are wholly inadequate for those kind[s] of tasks."

The stunted social skills of machines should mean that salespeople, managers and entrepreneurs have a reasonably bright future, as will nurses, kindergarten teachers and home help aids, he said.

Better together

A more optimistic outcome than automation leading to mass unemployment is to see these technologies as a tool that will allow people to achieve more.

Just as no one laments electronic word processors meaning no longer having to retype a document from scratch, so we'd likely welcome the ability for real-time speech recognition and translation.

Brynjolfsson explores this idea of people cooperating with machines, rather than competing against them, and achieving more than either one could individually.

The power of human-machine collaboration was demonstrated by two unranked amateur chess players in 2005, says Brynjolfsson and McAfee in the book. The pair of chess enthusiasts took part in a Playchess.com freestyle chess tournament, where individuals can team up with other people or computers. Despite going up against several grandmasters and a supercomputer named Hydra the pair of amateurs were able to win the contest, using custom chess software running on three laptops to analyse the boards and guide their play.

"This is a real frontier for entrepreneurs to develop new ways of what we call 'Racing with machines', combining machines and humans in new ways to allow them to do tasks they previously couldn't have done," said Brynjolfsson.

"I think that's very exciting and it's very poorly understood. For example, I could imagine augmented reality helping people. Imagine you are a home help aid or a nurse and you see an unusual mole or a lesion and are not quite sure what it is, you could use augmented reality glasses or other tools to send a photograph of that growth to a human expert or even an expert system, a decision-making system that analyses the shape and contours of that lesion and gives advice on whether you need to bring that person in for treatment," he added.

Similarly, AR glasses could overlay useful information for mechanics, surgeons, chefs to "help them with the parts of the jobs they wouldn't otherwise know how to do", he added.

"[There are] many other kinds of tasks where you combine the technology with human skills, so even middle-skilled workers could accomplish tasks that previously they couldn't have done," Brynjolfsson said.

The book repeats something that could turn out to be useful career advice in future: "The career advice that Google chief economist Hal Varian frequently gives: seek to be an indispensable complement to something that's getting cheap and plentiful."

Southampton University's Professor Jennings sees a role for AI in teaching people skills needed for new roles.

"You could see the AI as a system and repository for corporate knowledge," Jennings said. "You can embody much of that in the software. Having the software system act as a corporate memory could make it easier to do medium skilled jobs. It could aid skill transfer and fluidity of people [to move between jobs]."

Having software agents able to feed workers relevant data and crunching records in a fraction of the time it would take a person may be essential if digital data continues to grow at its current exponential pace.

watson-jeopardy-940px.jpg
The IBM supercomputer Watson defeated Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings (left) in 2011.
 Image: IBM

"As we get ever more data and information available it gets increasingly hard for humans to be able to take account of that," said Jennings. "I see the machine stepping up and providing clever amalgamations of that data and working on it with the humans."

He gave the example of how IBM's Watson system could aid doctors by making suggestions based on research from the latest medical journals. The system is already being trialled at at the Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and Westmed Medical Group in New York, where it is recommending lung cancer treatments.

From his knowledge of the way AI systems work today, Jennings finds it difficult to conceive of a system that can replace a person's entire set of skills.

"AI software tends to be very deep and very narrow," he said. "A lot of more professional jobs or tasks just require that broader base of expertise and experience that AI struggles to codify."

Instead Jennings see systems that rely upon AI routines gradually taking a larger and larger role in helping people do their jobs.

"Where it will start to happen is in narrow tasks. It will start with the computer making suggestions and if gradually all you ever do is press 'Yes' then gradually your trust in what the software can do will increase," he said. "That to me is a better model for take-up then 'Right we're going to develop some swanky software and sack all these people'."

Will the displaced find new roles?

The first machine age -- the Industrial Revolution -- may have destroyed the livelihoods of many artisan tradesmen but it did not have a lasting negative impact on the number of jobs in industrialised nations.

History teaches us that labour markets are able to recover from the changes wrought upon them by technological change, said Alan Manning, professor of economics at the London School of Economics.

"If I take an historical perspective then technical change has always destroyed some jobs and created others, and this would in some sense be no different from that," Manning said. "There will be some people who have spent 20 or 30 years specialised in a job and suddenly there is no demand for that. They suffer big losses but in the long run that washes out, no young people go into those jobs and they go into something else and there is always something else to go into."

The second machine age has undoubtedly created swathes of jobs that would have seemed baffling just a few decades back. Just travel back to the late 90s and try to explain what it is to be a YouTube Let's Player or to the early 80s and tell someone you're an SEO Expert.

letsplay.png
Being a YouTube Let's Player is just one of the roles made possible by the services that have grown up on the web.
 Image: Nick Heath/YouTube

But Brynjolfsson says society shouldn't expect that people will simply adapt to the employment opportunities afforded to them by new technologies. To adjust to the labour upheaval that followed the industrial revolution required a long-term overhaul of education systems, he said, an approach that may need to be repeated.

"If you look back to the first machine age the vast majority of Americans worked in agriculture. Now it's less than two percent," he said. "Those people [working in agriculture] didn't simply become unemployed, they reskilled. One of the best ideas that America had was mass primary education. That's one of the reasons it became an economic leader and other countries also adopted this model of mass education, where people paid not only for their own children but other people's children to go to school."

More legislation followed and by the 1950s laws were in place supporting widespread high school and college education in the US.

"We put a lot of effort into reskilling people in these earlier eras. It was very costly and not simple, but ultimately it was successful," said Brynjolfsson.

That commitment to education needs to continue says Brynjolfsson, who argues that lifelong learning will be essential for people to keep pace with the changing demands of roles constantly being reshaped by technology.

"We have to reinvent education and reskilling, and people are going to have to take it upon themselves to more aggressively learn these skills. Because the technology is changing more rapidly, it's going to be a case of lifelong learning and continuously reskilling."

Of course education is still expensive and difficult, but Brynjolfsson believes teaching could become far more accessible in future with the advent of universities like Stanford making entire courses freely available online, and online teaching sites such as Khan Academy.

"Courses online can help tremendously. Education has been a laggard in using digital technologies but that makes me optimistic because there's a lot of room for improvement of doing a better job and I think that will happen in the coming years," he said.

Better education, doesn't mean continuing to teach the same subjects in the same way, and certainly not focusing primarily on the three Rs -- reading, writing, and arithmetic -- which still are the cornerstones of the classroom in many parts of the world.

"AI software tends to be very deep and very narrow." Nick Jennings

"The three Rs were once the skills that workers needed to contribute to the most advanced economy of the time. As Mitra points out, the educational system of Victorian England was designed quite well for its time and place. But that time and place are no longer ours," according to the book.

To remain valuable knowledge workers in this latest machine age, Brynjolfsson and McAfee say people will need to focus on learning skills that are tricky for computers, such as ideation (the creation of new ideas), large-frame pattern recognition, and complex communication.

Changing national education policy isn't going to happen overnight, and, in part, Brynjolfsson sees the book as a wake-up call, as a reminder that if technologies are leading us down the wrong path, then we as individuals need to do something about it.

"One of the reasons we wrote the book was to get people to change the conversation, to pay attention to these issues and take them on head on," he said. "What we have to do is understand that, as we say in the last line of the book, 'Technology is not destiny, we shape our destiny.' If we do take an active role I think we can come out on the other side much wealthier and with more shared prosperity than ever before, but it's certainly not inevitable."

Cover image: Mike Rubenstein and Science/AAAS

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

44 comments
dpbaird1
dpbaird1

When watching Watson on Jeopardy, I noticed Watson occasionally came up with really wild answers.  In my business experience, I found the value of multiple inputs to the decision making process.  Are we going to need several independently developed AI systems when dealing with complex situations to have a reasonable likelihood of an acceptable solution?  Or will we need human reviews and if so where do we get the people with sufficient experience to do that?  Changes are coming but we must be aware of changes made just for the sake of change.

wilback
wilback

I have an aging parent with failing vision who needs a lot of assistance. Even though she lives in an expensive assisted-living community, life is still very difficult. Often she has to wait 15 to 30 minutes for assistance to arrive for even simple tasks. Finding people to fill these low paying, unskilled, and often tedious jobs is very difficult. Automated driving and mechanical helpers would go a long ways towards making life better for my mother -- or myself if I ever get old enough to be in a similar condition.

marketingdork2117
marketingdork2117

I'll be impressed with robots when jets can run on 20 gallons of fuel around the world with no emissions. I'll be impressed when chemical companies are pollution free. I'll be impressed when all motor vehicles get at least 100 MPG with no emissions and lots of power.


Until then, technology needs a ways to go...


Foreseen
Foreseen

With the development of "replicating" or "duplicating" technology, mankind will be able to

kick back, relax and enjoy life better!

techrepublic
techrepublic

Anything that can be done by machine will be done by machine.

The only friction is the intelligence required to drive the machine.

That's where AI come in.

As soon as we find that magic breakthrough in AI, It's all over.



alfred2
alfred2

Comments are cut off on the right in Google Chrome

but not in Firefox 13

NeverCast
NeverCast

Not an optimal fix, honestly it's a web developers job to fix this

horrible comment section. But by pasting the following in to your

address bar, it will fix the content as much as I can with a short

script.

javascript:$('.longform-750 #content p').css('width', 'auto')

Paste that in the address bar and press enter, it will

change the sizing style for the comment boxes.

-- Also I agree with 
john.ballantyne

HenryGB
HenryGB

The real problem here is that mankind will rapidly lose control of the situation. As Stephen Hawking said AI devices will soon be able to design and build their replacement and that replacement design and build their replacement. The AI devices and the devices and robots they build will increase in intelligence and capabilities exponentially. One day a very advanced intelligent device will design warp drive. But where will mankind fit into this, what role will they allow us to have. Potentially we could do dramatic things without having to work anymore or will we be pets of these devices?

johnpinna
johnpinna

The fallacy with the article above is the economy is a dynamic environment.  Yes certain jobs disappear but new jobs are created.  I agree with john.ballantyne below - the problem is economics.  Get rid of the 'big government'types on both sides of the policitcal spectrum and the economy will fly...

Vicky Wen
Vicky Wen

Stop it? Why stop it? One day they'll replace us and work for all of us. Why should we stop it!

john.ballantyne
john.ballantyne

I’ll post this again for those who can’t read the original.

The problem is economics, not technology. Any advance that makes one person more

productive, also makes someone else less needed.We would never give back our cars

or take away a carpenter’s nail gun (vs. claw hammers).Academic economists have

failed us.They still sing the same song about economic stimulus and government

spending.But they haven’t figured out that the nail gun, which benefitted the carpenter

greatly, benefitted the construction company owner even more.

Two economies are wrapped into one. The productive/consumptive economy is on one

hand, and the speculative on the other.Money trickles down in one, gushes up in the

other.Balancing these two against each other isn’t easy. The first is linear and the other

is exponential.It’s chaotic and pseudo cyclic.Optimally, money flows up and down.At

worst, one wins and the other chokes off.

Inequality didn’t begin with computers.Inept politicians, using the only economics they

know have stimulated speculation, met deficits with tax cuts to the wealthy, mistaken

corporations for charities.

It’s been here ever since we invented money, and feudal lords collected rent from the

workers.Economists wring their hands and talk of “dystopias” and nothing really useful.

Come on, economists, solve this.

john.ballantyne
john.ballantyne

BTW, If you have trouble reading a post, it may help to copy & paste 

the text into a word processor.  That can get at parts that are 

"underneath" another window, or frame of a window.  I hope that helps.

john.ballantyne
john.ballantyne

The problem is economics, not technology. The advance that makes one person more productive, also makes someone else less needed.We wouldn’t give back our cars or take away a carpenter’s nail gun (vs. claw hammers).Academic economists have failed us.They sing the same song about economic stimulus and government spending.But they haven’t figured out that the nail gun, which benefitted the carpenter greatly, benefitted the construction company owner even more.

Two economies are wrapped into one. The productive/consumptive economy is on one hand, and the speculative on the other.Money trickles down in one, gushes up in the other.Balancing these two against each other isn’t easy. The first is linear and the other is exponential.It’s chaotic and pseudo cyclic.Optimally, money flows up and down.At worst, one wins and the other chokes off.

Inequality didn’t begin with computers.Inept politicians, using the only economics they know have stimulated speculation, met deficits with tax cuts to the wealthy, mistaken corporations for charities.

It’s been here ever since we invented money, and feudal lords collected rent from the workers.Economists wring their hands and talk of “dystopias” and nothing really useful.Come on, economists, solve this.

T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

I'm not in corporate management but  I for 1 do not agree with a lot of you about AI destroying jobs and all that. How many of you out there are willing to do manual labor jobs like those operators in production lines? Lesser and lesser people want it. Most of you would not tell your kids to give up studying and just take up some manual labor work at some sub-urban or rural areas. You instead pester your children to study and study and stay in school. Get into universities or colleges, graduate and get a decent job in some corporate office in major cities. Who else are left to do the manual labor? People willing to do manual labor jobs are getting lesser while more and more people are occupying the major cities. Replacing humans with robots don't really cut cost as little as most of you imagine as machines are not as indestructable as most of you think. Electronics have lifespans, mechanical parts have wear and tear so they need maintenance. They aren't cheap to maintain else each and every one of us would have robot maids in our homes. We need to move up, advance, we need intellects, strategist, visionaries to drive us forward not reminiscing how humans were back in the stone age where every humans are needed for every reasons.

szanne7000
szanne7000

Copy the comment, then paste into a text document. Everything shows up.

DJMorais
DJMorais

Comments are being cut off on the right so I'm not sure how much of this will be readable. Apparently what these greedy corporations haven't figured out yet is this.. Sure, robots don't require wages or benefits etc., so it's great for their bottom line and they get richer short term as do their stock holders. But for every human that loses their job to a machine that is one more person that will now struggle to survive and feed their family. That does not leave any money for that family to buy that greedy corporation's shiny robot-made bobble or service, does it? And that elite 5-10 percent that can afford it won't be enough to keep the greedy corporation afloat, and they will ultimately go under. Think about it folks; the job base is shrinking and the population is increasing.  If we do not gain a better uderstanding of the balance between how automation and AI can benefit society as opposed to how it can plunder society for the sake of higher profits we are going to be in serious trouble in the future.

DJMorais
DJMorais

Will someone PLEASE fix this stupid site so that I can actually read the comments from readers? Stupid machines...

inet32
inet32

Technology ("robots") get smarter and more capable day by day. But humans are pretty much the same as we were 100,000 years ago. So it seems logical that eventually technology will reach or exceed human capabilities. In some areas those days are starting to arrive now.

It's polly-annish to assume that there will always be enough things to do that only humans can do to keep us all employed. That's just wishful thinking.

sbarman
sbarman

"Even with computing technologies improving at that "steady, inexorable" rate, jobs may be being destroyed faster than they are created."


Really? Where is the substantiation for this claim? I have been hearing this malarkey since I started in computing in the 1970s and this is not the first time I've read that "AI" would make humans obsolete. What happens is there is a shift in where humans are needed and it balances out in the end. Sure, there are periods of adjustments, But with the population the way it is, if your assertions were true, we would have massive unemployment. 


What you should read into your data is that employment statistics are overall very stable while productivity rises. That is more a function of the tools getting better to support more people. It is not taking away jobs. In fact, if you listen to the US-based companies that want to expand the H-1(b) visa program, there are not enough people to support their jobs.


Sorry... your arguments were made in the 1960s and were as true then as they are today.

guruprasad_km
guruprasad_km

I had to type this again as the below what i pasted was not
visible completely. Below are my honest comments:
I am commenting based on what is coming directly from my
small brain and my personal view on this topic will be to
use Robotics/Automation or Artificial intelligence in space
where human indulgence is very risky for example, Space
craft/ Military / Save people from natural calamities etc.
Automation should not become substitutes for humans and their
jobs. Design Robots for the activities which human can't do
and not the other way round. By doing so we can improve
technology and economy of all the people across the world.
Scientific inventions should be for the betterment of the
people and not against them. At this point of technical
advancement we need to reconsider about involving too much
of automation is risky. The advancement of computer technology
back in 1980s and then onwards were inevitable as it improved
the business and adverse affect was minimal, but substituting
humans will put lot of problems to common people and the governments.
Instead develop robots to go to mars to grow trees so that in
some centuries it will become like earth, and new generations
that are yet to come will have two planets to live. :-).
Also there must be some Law which stops the technical advancement
which could substitute the humans and grab their job from them,
in short judicial use of technology should be inforced by a body
like WHO.

guruprasad_km
guruprasad_km

I am commenting based on what is coming directly from my small brain and my personal view on this topic will be to use Robotics/Automation or Artificial intelligence in space where human indulgence is very risky for example, Space craft/ Military / Save people from natural calamities etc. Automation should not become substitutes for humans and their jobs. Design Robots for the activities which human can't do and not the other way round. By doing so we can improve technology and economy of all the people across the world. Scientific inventions should be for the betterment of the people and not against them. At this point of technical advancement we need to reconsider about involving too much of automation is risky. The advancement of computer technology back in 1980s and then onwards were inevitable as it improved the business and adverse affect was minimal, but substituting humans will put lot of problems to common people and the governments. Instead develop robots to go to mars to grow trees so that in some centuries it will become like earth, and new generations that are yet to come will have two planets to live. :-). Also there must be some Law which stops the technical advancement which could substitute the humans and grab their job from them, in short judicial use of technology.

almanzma
almanzma

People's comments are getting cut off on the right.

mike
mike

The message about education - giving people the capacity to constantly reskill - is one I've been banging on about for at least 2 decades. Our education system just isn't fit for purpose, and teaching to a trade for those "less academically-able" sells them seriously short.

Jeff_D_Programmer
Jeff_D_Programmer

The problem as I see it is that most of humanity do not have the capacity to be overly

creative, use complex communication, or conceptualize data as required by large-

frame pattern recognition. We have vast numbers of people today who can't function

in a society that has room for people with no creative skills, and only requires a

fundamental learning ability. What's going to happen when we all need to be capable

of functioning at a level where, currently, only the top 5% - 10% function?

blatanville
blatanville

there are always jobs where it is cheaper to use humans to do the work, even though it might be automatable...ask the Foxconn workers in China if they think a machine could do the job of assembling iPhones...

So, the tech people pushed out of their jobs by AI need not worry...there will always be Taco Bell jobs...

jolisadillard
jolisadillard

That last line is a mouthful and gives not only an opening for much thought...society had better get on the ball.

'Technology is not destiny, we shape our destiny.' If we do take an active role I think we can come out on the other side much wealthier and with more shared prosperity than ever before, but it's certainly not inevitable."

DavyPaul
DavyPaul

of course, we could start now and encourage the western nations to have fewer children and then develop a more highly skilled smaller population. People are already staying fitter for work longer too, which is something we have to take into account. Getting their stories and experiences transferred to AI would benefit the collective culture. We've already lost out to china and 'far east' for manufacturing. Of couorse, this will change 'post-oil' too!

Christopher Montgomery
Christopher Montgomery

Too many already, Now they are putting automated cashiers in McDonalds. I mean really profits are not high enough they need to replace minimum wage workers and students jobs for more profits. I stopped eating that crap years ago as it contains no real food nutrients any more. But Cmon this is going to far.

jbizeray
jbizeray

Once you are replaced what is the value of your continued existence? If you contribute less than you consume might a machine decide that you might be more productive as recycled bio-matter (compost).  Do not make the mistake that all nationalities, cultures or religions place as high a value on human life as we do.  If I were you I would start to be frightened by machines replacing us. 

ealanm
ealanm

@DJMorais It all comes down to how quickly jobs are replaced by machines relative to how quickly the "labour market" can adapt.  Neither of those things are controllable by any one corporation, so it therefore makes little sense to put responsibility for either the problem or the solution on corporations.  The role of each corporation is to do what it deems to be most in its interest; those that make good choices will survive, those that won't will not survive, and their resources will then be freed to add value somewhere else.

If there's a meta-corporate problem to be solved then it needs to be solved by meta-corporate agents -- either industry associations or other forms of NGOs, or governments.

adornoe1
adornoe1

@inet32 It is NOT POSSIBLE for a machine to get thinking skills beyond that of a human being.

Heck, it's not even possible for a machine or computer to "think".  

Machines can be programmed to take over repetitive and menial tasks, 

but then, those were not the type that required much thought to begin with.  

adornoe1
adornoe1

@inet32 It is NOT POSSIBLE for a machine to get thinking skills beyond that of a human being.  Heck, it's not even possible for a machine or computer to "think".  

Machines can be programmed to take over repetitive and menial tasks, but then, those were not the type that required much thought to begin with.  

ealanm
ealanm

@sbarman I think the issue here is that the first chart shows a "period of adjustment" (in your terms) but, because we are early in that period, there's no way to know if it's merely a transient phase that will soon balance out or the beginning of a trend with more ominous implications.  I'm inclined to agree with you that it will balance out, but even if that's true the balancing out is liable to lead to quite significant societal changes, as happened with the steam engine and the automobile.  It's not unreasonable for people to be concerned.  And past behaviour does not necessarily predict future behaviour; the balancing out won't necessarily happen just because it always happened in the past.  (Which is what Keynes seemed to be implying.)


It's also interesting to speculate what those changes will be, even if you take an optimistic stance.  I would even say that it's more interesting to speculate about the changes if you're optimistic.  One of the worst things about pessimism is how boring it is.

rapturewise
rapturewise

@sbarman 
yes it is true, jobs are being created, at Starbucks and the like. Real unemployment is
24 percent see shadowstats .com. Don't buy the propaganda, open your eyes and look around.. amerika is in a slow burning depression, waiting for the next show to drop ( that would be US dollar crash)  The dream is dead..  the nightmare all to real - wake up...

ealanm
ealanm

@mike I agree.  Education is very much in need of technological progress, too.  That does seem to be happening, though, what with online courses and so on.  Probably a bigger issue is that we need to become accustomed to the idea of lifelong learning.  I recently moved to a less technology-oriented industry from a higher-tech industry, and I was shocked at the complacent attitude of most people in the lower-tech world.  They have not grasped the necessity of constantly finding better ways to do their jobs.  Even without considering the issue of automation replacing humans, that's an attitude that has to change.

ealanm
ealanm

@Jeff_D_Programmer While my inclination is to be optimistic (see my response to sbarman, above), I agree with you on this point.  I'm no expert on cognitive ability, but my understanding from reading the work of those who are is that the economies of the most developed nations already have little room for anyone more than about one standard deviation below average intelligence.  That's a big chunk of the population able to add little economic value.  It's not obvious to me what would stop that threshold from moving up to half a standard deviation, then to average, and perhaps just keep going.

But it's also true that, as described in the article, some roles require hard-to-mimic human traits that don't necessarily require high cognitive ability, either.  There's probably a lot of room there for machines to assist humans in carrying out those kinds of roles.

Jeff_D_Programmer
Jeff_D_Programmer

@blatanville Fast food is looking to replace cashiers with self-checkout kiosks. There

is already a machine that can automate the entire food production task. It won't be much

longer until a fast food place needs no employees and can be maintained by a single

person, along with delivery of frozen meat, fries, etc (delivered and stored by machines).

inet32
inet32

@adornoe

Sure, just keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel better. Bees can't fly either.

Anyway, the vast majority of human jobs don't require thinking, as you define it, either.