In my book, To My Countrymen, I wrote two essays that talk about how computers threaten jobs: Productivity Rocks and The Future. I would have written more about this hugely important disruptive technology, but it was not my intention in this book to scare you half to death. I wrote my book to move you to join our revolution.
Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots, by John Markoff, New York: 2015. It’s an examination of the progress of the twin strains of computer intelligence: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Intelligence Augmentation (IA), AI vs IA. Over-simply stated, AI aims at machines replacing humans while IA aims at super-charging human skills. Mars Rovers and totally automated factories are results of AI thinking, while Microsoft Office and the Internet are results of IA thinking (lest you think that IA is benign, products that empower a human to be more “productive” empower his employer to cut his labor force).
Following the AI path is a potential threat to mankind’s very survival (see Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us), while following the IA path will still eliminate jobs, in the hundreds of millions given enough time. There is no way to halt the race for computer intelligence, and one day computers will be smarter and more able than any man; all we can do is prepare for that day. My essay An Economic Summit was my book’s suggestion for turning IA into a net benefit for the human race.
I am not so sure that we can prepare for AI’s threat to humanity’s survival. While it is a lovely idea to imagine a world where Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics (in effect, do no harm to humans) are universally in effect world-wide, there is no reason to believe that such a ban would be 100% effective. Robots will be able to reproduce eventually and there will always be a few bad apples in the human race who think it would be neat to kick-start Armageddon. But, who knows, maybe global warming will get us first.
If you have a strong constitution, read Martin Ford's Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. You read that right: the threat of a jobless future. Sure, owning our own personal computers and our own smart phones has immeasurably changed our lives for the better (putting aside the fact that we can't seem to ever put down our phones, and we never seem to be up-to-date with our email stream); but the other side of that equation is that technology has done even more for businesses and has allowed them to thrive with fewer human employees than before. Don't tell me that the Unemployment Rate is way down, look instead to the Labor Force Participation Rate that has been collapsing for 16 years (homework assignment: look it up!).
Also, Robot Intelligence: A Primer.
I want to add these actors to my book's essay An Economic Summit:
- Add two high-level economists (with different viewpoints) from the Treasury Department
- Add two high-level economists (with different viewpoints) from the Federal Reserve Bank
- Add four artificial intelligence experts
- Add one futurist
- Add four high-ranking individuals from the Finance community, Wall Street (having the devil in their midst should bring clarity of vision to everyone else)
- Add four economists from politico-economical Think Tanks, two from the Right, two from the Left
Addendum: Wednesday, 04/12/2017
Here is one economists's thoughts on what types of jobs are threatened by robotics short-term (next 10 years).