Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Robots Are Coming

...for your job.

Or maybe not.

Brad DeLong links to some various opinions:

Most utopian: “How unhappy are you that your dishwasher has replaced washing dishes by hand, your washing machine has displaced washing clothes by hand or your vacuum cleaner has replaced hand cleaning? My guess is this ‘job displacement’ has been very welcome, as will the ‘job displacement’ that will occur over the next 10 years. This is a good thing. Everyone wants more jobs and less work.” — Hal Varian, chief economist at Google

Most dystopian: “We’re going to have to come to grips with a long-term employment crisis and the fact that — strictly from an economic point of view, not a moral point of view — there are more and more ‘surplus humans.'”— Karl Fogel, partner at Open Tech Strategies, an open-source technology firm

Most hopeful: “Advances in A.I. [artificial intelligence] and robotics allow people to cognitively offload repetitive tasks and invest their attention and energy in things where humans can make a difference. We already have cars that talk to us, a phone we can talk to, robots that lift the elderly out of bed and apps that remind us to call Mom. An app can dial Mom’s number and even send flowers, but an app can’t do that most human of all things: emotionally connect with her.” — Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, a nonprofit

Most grim: “The degree of integration of A.I. into daily life will depend very much, as it does now, on wealth. The people whose personal digital devices are day-trading for them, and doing the grocery shopping and sending greeting cards on their behalf, are people who are living a different life than those who are worried about missing a day at one of their three jobs due to being sick, and losing the job and being unable to feed their children.” — Bill Woodcock, executive director for the Packet Clearing House, a nonprofit research institute on Internet traffic

Most frightening to Americans: “Globally, more jobs will be created by manufacturing of robots, but in developed countries like the U.S. and Europe jobs will be displaced by manufacturing by robots.” — Mike Liebhold, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future, a nonprofit research group

Most frightening to parents: “Only the best-educated humans will compete with machines. And education systems in the U.S. and much of the rest of the world are still sitting students in rows and columns, teaching them to keep quiet and memorize what is told to them, preparing them for life in a 20th century factory.” — Howard Rheingold, tech writer and analyst

In the medium term robots will create wealth. The question is how that will distribute. Will a few owners of capital get it all? Or will some of it be transferred to the rest of humanaity?