Will AI result in mass unemployment or a new middle class?

We've heard it before: Artificial Intelligence is coming to take our jobs. But is it really their fault, or the company that can't figure out how to create new ones?

Luis Perez-Breva: A lot of people are scared about AI. And the reason is I think we’ve seen too many Terminator movies. So we’re mixing many things up. So it is true Terminator is not the scenario we are planning for. But when it comes to artificial intelligence people get all these things confused. It’s robots, it’s awareness, it’s people smarter than us to some degree. So we’re effectively afraid of robots that will move and are stronger and smarter than we are, like Terminator. So that’s not our aspiration. That’s not what I do when I’m thinking about artificial intelligence. When I’m thinking about artificial intelligence I’m thinking about it in the same way that mass manufacturing has brought by forth created a whole new economy. So mass manufacturing allowed people to get new jobs that were unthinkable before. And those new jobs actually created the middle class. To me artificial intelligence is about developing... making computers better partners, effectively. And you’re already seeing that today. You’re already doing it except that it’s not really artificial intelligence. Today whenever you want to engage in a project you go to Google. Google uses advanced machine learning, really advanced.

And you engage in a very narrow conversation with Google except that your conversation is just key words. So a lot of your time is spent trying to come up with the actual key word that you need to find the information and Google gives you the information. And then you go out and try to make sense of it on your own and come back to Google for more. And then go back out and that’s the way it works. So imagine that instead of being a narrow conversations with key words you could actually engage for more and actual information meaning to have the computer reason with you about stuff that you may not know about. It’s not so much about the computer being aware. It’s the computer being a better tool to partner with you. Then you would be able to go much further. The same way that Google allows you to go much further already today because before through the exact same process you would have had to go to a library every time you wanted to search for information. So what I’m looking for when I do AI is I want the machine that partners with me to help me set up or solve real world problems thinking about them in ways we have never thought about before. But it’s a partnership. And you can take this partnership in so many different directions through additions to your brain like Elon Musk proposes or through better search engines or through a robotic machine that helps you out. But it’s not so much they’re going to replace you for that purpose. That is not the real purpose of AI. The real purpose is for us to reach further the same way that we were able to reach further when Ford invented automation or when Ford brought automation to mass market.

People fear that automation might actually remove jobs. And what I want to stress is that that’s not artificial intelligence. Automation is something we’ve been doing for ages, all of us. You do it at your home. You do it with the way you set up your own schedules. You do it for many, many things. In some cases it involves computers, in some cases it doesn’t. Now the purpose of automation is to free time so that we can reach further. So when a company starts using automation and it erases certain jobs but doesn’t figure out how to create new ones then they’re mostly just looking at cost savings. They’re not looking really at expanding their own market. And that turns out to be a lack of imagination. So with the free time and the expertise that was left free now because of the automation they should be able to build and reach further. If they don’t it has little to do with the actual machine which is somewhat dumb. It has more to do with lack of imagination on the part of whomever. But certainly not the worker, right. 

Luis Perez-Breva, a professor at MIT, thinks that we've probably been watching too many Terminator movies for us to really understand what AI actually is. It will (hopefully) (knock on wood) be much less hyper-intelligent humanoid killing machines and more of a sidekick role. Luis brings up a great point that many in the AI world gloss over: that we saw this kind of so-called "job killing" a century ago when Henry Ford created automation in the workplace; Luis posits that it won't be that much different than we're used to and that mankind should be creative enough to figure out how to assimilate human jobs and AI side by side. Luis Perez-Breva's new book is Innovating: A Doer's Manifesto for Starting from a Hunch, Prototyping Problems, Scaling Up, and Learning to Be Productively Wrong.


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