Sep 25, 201811:53 AMInside Wisconsin
with Tom Still
Fear of technology not new, but history says humans prevail
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Admit it: Somewhere in the back of your head, you’re worried that artificial intelligence will somehow triumph over your own above-average intelligence. You suspect a new computing age powered by AI will make your job obsolete, or that a robot will soon build another robot that will do the same.
It’s true that AI, robotics, and other emerging technologies will squeeze out many jobs that could be computerized — but it will also create many more jobs that likely pay better, create more economic activity, and generally benefit society.
That’s the take of Byron Reese, a successful tech entrepreneur, futurist, and author of The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity. He will speak Oct. 17 at the first WARF Innovation Day at the Discovery building in Madison.
“I think the case that AI is going to eat jobs is very hard to make,” said Reese, who has led two companies to initial public offerings, sold three, and written extensively on the effects of technology on society. “Some employment will be disrupted by AI, but people have always adjusted and advanced. An order-taker won’t become a geneticist, of course, but the real question is: Can everybody do a job that may be a little harder than the job they now have?”
Reese points to history for evidence. The human ability to control fire, the invention of the wheel, development of language, and the advent of agriculture over countless millennia were all tech transitions in their time, often leading to the rise of civilizations. Within the past 250 years or so, technological transitions have included the shift from animal power to steam power, the assembly line, the electrification of industry, the petroleum age, and the coming of the internet.
The shift to steam power was accomplished over a few decades, Reese noted, all the while creating more jobs and better jobs than were lost. Other transitions were similarly brief, and more jobs — not fewer — were invariably the result.
“The biggest technological trends in the last 250 years didn’t bump the unemployment figures,” Reese said. “I don’t have any reason to believe that what is happening now with AI and other developments is any more, or any less, likely to costs jobs overall than what has happened in the past.”
Reese is not alone. The U.S. edition of the Guardian reported a year ago that fear of technology is nothing new. “In the past, reports of the death of human jobs have often been greatly exaggerated, and technology has created a lot more jobs than it has wiped out. It’s called the ‘Luddite Fallacy,’ (a reference) to the 19th century group of textile workers who smashed the new weaving machinery that made their skills redundant. Further, in the last 60 years automation has only eliminated one occupation: elevator operators.”