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Do Androids Dream of Stealing Your Job?

August 17, 2011, 12:00 AM

What’s the Big Idea?

The word robot comes from an old Slavic word meaning to work -- which may be more apt now than in the 1920's, when it was first used in a play about mass-produced laborers overthrowing humans. In the near future, robots will be our fiercest competitors in the workplace, says Dr. Michio Kaku, the theoretical physicist. 

As more and more employers put artificial intelligence to work, any position involving repetition or rote memorization is at risk of extinction. Mere mortals will lose out on jobs like bookkeeping, bank telling, and accounting. Realtors, if they want to stay in business, will trade in gossip (where to find an apartment with a dishwasher, which neighborhoods have the best takeout) rather than legwork: all paper transactions can be easily made digital.

“It turns out that the jobs of the future will be those that cannot be done by artificial intelligence,” says Kaku. So what do humans have that computers don’t? For one, common sense. Robots are unrivaled at solving problems of logic, but their ability to understand irrational behavior and make inferences about the world around them is limited. “They don’t know that water is wet. They don’t know that strings can pull, but strings cannot push."



Human beings also possess a natural aptitude for recognizing and interpreting patterns in a way that artificial intelligence may never be able to. “Robots have very bad eyesight. They see lines, circles, squares, but they don’t understand that these lines, circles, squares make up a face or a chair or a cup." The deficit bodes well for the viability of the “creative industries” like entertainment, media, and design, and for jobs in criminal justice and sanitation. It may foreshadow the increasing relevance of research positions in science and mathematics. 

What’s the Significance?

Prepare for the coming showdown between flesh-and-blood workers and AI by developing your “intellectual capital”: decision-making skills, ingenuity, finesse. In the job market of tomorrow, the winners will be workers in fields that demand moral understanding and analysis.

One job Kaku says will never go out of style? Law. “Lawyers will have jobs in the future and that’s because law involves... human values that change constantly,” proving the old adage that, yes, the lawyers will always be with us.


Do Androids Dream of Steali...

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