Thursday, February 22, 2018

Like it or not, the future is coming ... with robots!

I routinely warn students, like I did this week, that we don't really know for certain how all the technological revolution will shape up in their lives.  We deal with probabilities, I like to remind them.  One aspect we can speak with confidence: The rate of change will be higher in the future than we have ever experienced.

"In this coming future, do not think of robots as the cliched robots that you have seen in cartoons and movies," I told them.  "Alexa is, for instance, a robot. which carries out your instructions and also does other things in the background."  Before we know it, there will be plenty of sophisticated robots, I warned them.

I think I saw panic in a few of their eyes.  Good for them. Now they will be alert and plan for their lives.

I am not the only one who says such things.
So let’s stipulate: no one knows for sure what’s about to happen to the labor market. Most observers agree, however, on at least two things. First, the pace of AI discoveries and implementation is accelerating. Robots are now doing things that seemed like science fiction just a short time ago. Was anyone talking about a retail-sector meltdown, driven in good measure by AI-facilitated e-commerce, last year? Second, fasten your seatbelts. Whether you call it “the second machine age”—as MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee do, in a 2014 book by that name—or the fourth industrial revolution, this will be big. Most Silicon Valley honchos, scientists, and economists think that this time is different. Exactly how many jobs will be lost, which kinds of jobs and when, and what to do to prepare for these losses may be matters of dispute. No longer questioned is that a massive disruption in the way we earn a living is coming and that it will transform communities, education—and perhaps even our notion of an America defined by industriousness and upward mobility.
The future won't be a mere continuation of the present.  It will be unrecognizably different.

One of the differences will be this: More jobs will be destroyed than created.  We need to broadcast the truth and have more people engage in the discussions.
These changes are coming, and we need to tell the truth and the whole truth. We need to find the jobs that AI can’t do and train people to do them. We need to reinvent education. These will be the best of times and the worst of times. If we act rationally and quickly, we can bask in what’s best rather than wallow in what’s worst.
But, of course, we won't--people are too busy instagramming their lives and downloading crap!


Ramesh said...

You are dead right - nobody knows where the technological revolution will lead and we can only discuss probabilities. One certainty is that there will be at least one major development we currently have no clue about and totally did not even imagine.

There will be major job losses for sure, but I believe that it is likely to come slower than doomsday predictions. But come it will, nevertheless.

Science fiction (those doyens Clark and Asimov) have speculated on this future. One of the interesting speculations is that human beings will evolve into a neuter gender, with dramatic reduction in population, with lifespan in centuries and live virtually solitary lives with every resource ready at their disposal. It was a fascinating idea - some parts quite nice, some parts intriguing and major parts downright creepy.

Sriram Khé said...

"it is likely to come slower than doomsday predictions"
that's your reading of the tea leaves. The reality is that nobody knows for sure what that speed will be.

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