Thursday, July 27, 2017

Don’t Fear the Robots

Smart machines will replace some jobs, but they will create many more by generating new wealth and higher demand for products and services

By Jerry Kaplan in The WSJ. He is an adjunct professor at Stanford University, where he teaches about artificial intelligence. See also The Myth of Technological Unemployment by Deirdre McCloskey. Excerpts:
"But robots aren’t mechanical people. They are a new wave of automation, and like previous waves, they reduce the need for human labor. In doing so, they make the remaining workers more productive and their companies more profitable. These profits then find their way into the pockets of employees, stockholders and consumers (through lower prices).

This newfound wealth, in turn, increases demand for products and services, compensating for lost jobs by employing even more people."

"country-level employment generally grows as aggregate productivity rises."

"despite centuries of progress in automation and recurrent warnings of a jobless future, total employment has continued to increase relentlessly, even with bumps along the way."

"today’s most dire projections of jobs lost to automation fall short of historical norms."

"57% of the jobs that workers did in 1960 no longer exist today (adjusted for the size of the workforce)."

"Who is old enough to remember bowling alley pin-setters? Elevator operators? Gas jockeys? When was the last time you heard a manager say, “Take a memo”?"

"The crux of their argument is that the coming wave of artificially intelligent computers and robots can do virtually any job that a human can do, so everyone’s job is on the chopping block."

"won’t it soon be capable of doing just about anything a person can?

Not by a long shot. What all of these tasks have in common is that they involve finding subtle patterns in very large collections of data, a process that goes by the name of machine learning. The kinds of data vary, of course. It might be pixels in cat photos, bytes streaming from a dashboard camera, millions of computer-generated games of Go, digital X-rays or volumes of human-translated documents.

But it is misleading to characterize all of this as some extraordinary leap toward duplicating human intelligence. The selfie app in your phone that places bunny ears on your head doesn’t “know” anything about you."

"These programs present no more of a threat to human primacy than did automatic looms, phonographs and calculators"

"consumers are likely to allocate an increasing share of their income to premium services. This is precisely the segment of the economy where personal care, face-to-face interaction and demonstrations of skill are critical to the value delivered.

"Luxury hotels are not prized because they are more efficient but because their staff is more attentive. People pay more to watch a barista brew their latte than for a comparable product from a vending machine"

"Many consumers are likely to conclude in the next decade or so that they no longer need to have a car of their own. What’s called “transportation as a service” (autonomous taxis, on-demand vehicles and ride sharing) will save the typical American family more than $5,000 a year, according to think tank RethinkX."

"What will we do with that extra money? Spend it, of course—on vacations, clothes, restaurant dinners, concert tickets, spa days and more. That means increased demand for flight attendants, hospitality workers, tour guides, bartenders, dog walkers, tailors, chefs, ushers"

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