Why “How many jobs will be killed by AI?” is the wrong question

Why “How many jobs will be killed by AI?” is the wrong question

By Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson  

Over the past few years we’ve developed artificially intelligent machines that can do many things that used to require human minds: understanding speech, diagnosing disease, checking the terms of a contract, designing a mechanical part from scratch, even coming up with new scientific hypotheses that are supported by subsequent research. As this new software is embedded in hardware we’ll get self-driving cars, trucks, and combines; delivery and inspection drones; and robots of many kinds.

These technologies are improving more quickly than even their creators would have predicted at the start of the decade, and the fact that the world’s best players of both the Asian strategy game go and no limit heads up Texas hold-em poker are now AI systems indicates just how deeply they’re encroaching into human territory.

So shouldn’t we be preparing ourselves for massive AI-induced technological unemployment? A widely cited 2015 analysis by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne of Oxford University found that 47% of current jobs in the US were susceptible to computerization. And some jobs look especially ripe for automation. As self-driving technology advances it seems likely that many of America’s approximately 3.5 million truck drivers could find themselves out of a job…………………….

………….Tech progress has changed our economy a lot over the past generation, and will change it even more quickly in the years to come. But AI, as impressive and powerful as it is, won’t take over all human work any time soon. Instead of trying to prepare for a jobless future, we should instead be preparing for one that’s a turbocharged version of what we already have: a job creation engine that has shifted into a lower gear, and a large number of people tempted to sit on the sidelines rather than contributing their skills to the economy.

These are serious problems, but not insurmountable ones. The right policies, we believe, can give us the best of both worlds: all the benefits that come from the AI breakthroughs of today and tomorrow and jobs that provide people both dignity and a good paycheck. These jobs and policies are not going to look like the ones of the past, but so what? Throughout our history we Americans have stood out by embracing the future and rising to big challenges. Let’s not stop now.

 Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson are the authors of Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future.


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