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James
@JamesMiller
Personal account of James Miller, Managing Editor of The Interpreter, a publication on Russia, Ukraine, and Syria. A contributor at Reuters, The Daily Beast, RFE/RL, elsewhere.
James Miller
Artificial Intelligence

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James
@JamesMiller
Personal account of James Miller, Managing Editor of The Interpreter, a publication on Russia, Ukraine, and Syria. A contributor at Reuters, The Daily Beast, RFE/RL, elsewhere.
JamesMiller
The Trump Administration Is Downplaying The Biggest Threat - And Greatest Opportunity - For The Job Market

In October, journalist Kai Ryssdal (of Market Place fame) traveled to Ford's River Rouge factory in Dearbourne, Michigan, the first factory Ford ever opened, and it is still operational today. He had a great conversation with Ford CEO Mark Fields, but he had another observation on his program:

Despite the booming business the factory, which is still producing F-150 trucks, was nearly empty. Buildings that once housed thousands of employees are now home to handfuls of engineers and maintenance workers. The reason is simple -- human beings no longer make cars in America. Machines make cars in America. Human beings maintain those machines. In fact, machines are already self-diagnosing and are part of the process used for repairing other machines.

Thinking about this mechanically, it makes sense. Human beings were simply not designed to build or maintain cars. Instead, companies like Ford have created robots to make cars. The next step it to design robots to analyze and fix those other robots. Ultimately, it may make sense to build robots to specifically maintain specific vehicles. These robots will be equipped with specialized sensors and tools to find problems, make decisions, and fix them. While car-building robots might be the first step in automation -- a machine that follows a routine. But just the way that self-driving cars are analyzing their surroundings in order to navigate the roads, the next step for automation is the building of robots that can use their "senses" to receive information and then make decisions on what to do with that data -- artificial intelligence. This is not a technology of the future, it's already here.

So last week when Trump's Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that artificial intelligence won't take away any jobs for the foreseeable future, he was widely criticized. Business Insider provided perhaps the best critique, pointing to a 2013 study that shows just what a huge impact AI could have on the American workforce in the very near future. In fact, 47% of the US workforce could be at risk to lose their jobs to AI and automation "over the next decade or two." That was four years ago. Back then, there were no automated cars on the road, except for a few test vehicles. Now there are commercially-available vehicles equipped with self-driving systems in every city in America. It's already coming true:

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Treasury Secretary Mnuchin says AI taking US jobs is '50-100 more years' away - but it's already beginning to happen

On Friday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin answered a slew of questions in an interview with Axios' Mike Allen about the global economy and US labor market, including about the threat of artificial intelligence (AI) affecting American jobs. Mnuchin is not overly worried.

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Mar 29, 2017 17:47 (GMT)
This is arguably the key chart from that article. It shows that industries that employ a significant amount of Americans are most at risk: 
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2017-03-29 14:26:34
In fact, even Wall Street may not be spared. This story just broke: 
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Major Firm Announces It's Replacing Stock Brokers with A.I.

A new report on the world's largest money manager, BlackRock, Inc., has revealed that it will be thinning the ranks of its human stock pickers, and transitioning toward algorithmic solutions. It's a stark example of algorithms directly taking people's jobs, and while the move is only tentative for now, it shows that soon even the world's most lucrative professions will be vulnerable to the oncoming wave of automation.

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Mar 29, 2017 18:28 (GMT)

Here's the cold-hard reality: all technology grows at a exponential pace. That means that growth is slow at first -- there was a time when only obnoxious businessmen who enjoyed talking loudly in public to flaunt their cool tech had cell phones, and it wasn't that long ago. Then it was that kid at the mall, and then you, and then your grandmother. Innovation also follows the same curve. At first everyone just has what we now call a dumb phone. Then there's a Blackberry that rules for a while, then an iPhone, and then soon thereafter everyone makes smart phones. Change is fast, and new technology tends to innovate at the same time as it grows. 

All this means that right now, smart automation -- AI -- is at the very beginning of its life cycle. When the change comes, it will come very quickly, and it will already be too late to make a plan.

An opportunity, or an existential threat

Human history is filled with jobs that don't exist anymore because of technological and cultural change. Very few of us hunt for food. In developed countries, nobody has to go to the river to fetch some water. Nobody hand-picks cotton. Only a controversial few in places like Japan, Scandinavia, and Alaska hunt whales, an industry that only died out about one hundred years ago and which literally funded the building of most of the state I currently live in.

Some of these new technologies created new jobs. Agricultural advancements allowed the same amount of farmers to work more land, for instance. But could automation eliminate entire industries while creating jobs for a handful of engineers? What if self-driving cars replace taxi drivers, robots replace fast-food workers, and automated repair shops eliminate car mechanics? 

Access labor could create great opportunities, but it could also create tremendously-difficult consequences. By denying that this is even a possibility, the Trump administration is almost ensuring that the opportunity of AI will turn into a threat for the entire economy. 

The future is coming. In fact, it's already here.

-- James Miller

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