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A new report released by the Whitehouse indicates that accelerating Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities will enable automation of some tasks that have long required human labor. The report authors indicate that these transformations will open up new opportunities for individuals, the economy, and society, but they will also disrupt the current livelihoods of millions of Americans. At a minimum, some occupations such as drivers and cashiers are likely to face displacement from or a restructuring of their current jobs.
The challenge for policymakers will be to update, strengthen, and adapt policies to respond to the economic effects of AI.
Although it is difficult to predict these economic effects precisely, the report suggests that policymakers should prepare for five primary economic effects:
- Positive contributions to aggregate productivity growth;
- Changes in the skills demanded by the job market, including greater demand for higher-level technical skills;
- Uneven distribution of impact, across sectors, wage levels, education levels, job types, and locations;
- Churning of the job market as some jobs disappear while others are created; and
- The loss of jobs for some workers in the short-run, and possibly longer depending on policy responses.
More generally, the report suggests three broad strategies for addressing the impacts of AI-driven automation across the whole U.S. economy:
- Invest in and develop AI for its many benefits;
- Educate and train Americans for jobs of the future; and
- Aid workers in the transition and empower workers to ensure broadly shared growth.
Key points from the report
The authors state it is unlikely that machines will exhibit broadly-applicable intelligence comparable to or exceeding that of humans in the next 20 years, it is to be expected that machines will continue to reach and exceed human performance on more and more tasks.
AI should be welcomed for its potential economic benefits. However there will be changes in the skills that workers need to succeed in the economy, and structural changes in the economy. Aggressive policy action will be needed to help Americans who are disadvantaged by these changes and to ensure that the enormous benefits of AI and automation are developed by and available to all.
Today, it may be challenging to predict exactly which jobs will be most immediately affected by AI-driven automation. Because AI is not a single technology, but rather a collection of technologies that are applied to specific tasks, the effects of AI will be felt unevenly through the economy. Some tasks will be more easily automated than others, and some jobs will be affected more than others—both negatively and positively. Some jobs may be automated away, while for others, AI-driven automation will make many workers more productive and increase demand for certain skills. Finally, new jobs are likely to be directly created in areas such as the development and supervision of AI as well as indirectly created in a range of areas throughout the economy as higher incomes lead to expanded demand.
Strategy #1: Invest in and develop AI for its many benefits. If care is taken to responsibly maximize its development, AI will make important, positive contributions to aggregate productivity growth, and advances in AI technology hold incredible potential to help the United States stay on the cutting edge of innovation. Government has an important role to play in advancing the AI field by investing in research and development. Among the areas for advancement in AI are cyberdefense and the detection of fraudulent transactions and messages. In addition, the rapid growth of AI has also dramatically increased the need for people with relevant skills from all backgrounds to support and advance the field. Prioritizing diversity and inclusion in STEM fields and in the AI community specifically, in addition to other possible policy responses, is a key part in addressing potential barriers stemming from algorithmic bias. Competition from new and existing firms, and the development of sound pro-competition policies, will increasingly play an important role in the creation and adoption of new technologies and innovations related to AI.
Strategy #2: Educate and train Americans for jobs of the future. As AI changes the nature of work and the skills demanded by the labor market, American workers will need to be prepared with the education and training that can help them continue to succeed. Delivering this education and training will require significant investments. This starts with providing all children with access to high-quality early education so that all families can prepare their students for continued education, as well as investing in graduating all students from high school college- and career- ready, and ensuring that all Americans have access to affordable post-secondary education. Assisting U.S. workers in successfully navigating job transitions will also become increasingly important; this includes expanding the availability of job-driven training and opportunities for lifelong learning, as well as providing workers with improved guidance to navigate job transitions.
Strategy #3: Aid workers in the transition and empower workers to ensure broadly shared growth. Policymakers should ensure that workers and job seekers are both able to pursue the job opportunities for which they are best qualified and best positioned to ensure they receive an appropriate return for their work in the form of rising wages. This includes steps to modernize the social safety net, including exploring strengthening critical supports such as unemployment insurance, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and putting in place new programs such as wage insurance and emergency aid for families in crisis. Worker empowerment also includes bolstering critical safeguards for workers and families in need, building a 21st century retirement system, and expanding healthcare access. Increasing wages, competition, and worker bargaining power, as well as modernizing tax policy and pursuing strategies to address differential geographic impact, will be important aspects of supporting workers and addressing concerns related to displacement amid shifts in the labor market.
Finally, if a significant proportion of Americans are affected in the short- and medium-term by AI-driven job displacements, US policymakers will need to consider more robust interventions, such as further strengthening the unemployment insurance system and countervailing job creation strategies, to smooth the transition.
I will add detailed comments and my thoughts as I digest the full report in the coming days.
Buckminster Fuller said: “We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.” Here are some things I think will probably be true:
It’s probably a good time to invest in robot courier services
- Fleets of self-driving trucks will be on the roads worldwide by 2020
- Those same trucks will have a ‘delivery driver’ inside the cabin for at least another 10 years
- By 2030 all sales of new trucks will be self-driving
- From 2030 onwards a robot such as the latest generation Atlas will be in the cabin to handle deliveries
- By 2050 very few, if any, human couriers will be used, instead people will have new jobs coordinating the self-driving trucks, delivery robots and facilitation depots
Update – 10th May 2016. DHL recently hosted journalists, customers, and experts in the field of robotics at “Robotics Day” in their DHL Innovation Center in Troisdorf, Germany. The company says “Robots will be part of the future of logistics, and we’re excited to be on the ground floor of what that future cooperation will be like.” See the video here for more information…
By 2020 Sales of co-bots (smaller industrial robots) will explode
- By 2020 Co-bots will reach sales exceeding half a million units
- By 2030 most manufacturers will use co-bots to perform some tasks
- Co-bots, together with 3d printers will be decisive tools in bringing manufacturing local
- Co-bots will start to handle many of the tasks performed by larger ‘caged’ robots
- Co-bots will contribute to significant declines in manufacturing personnel, but productivity and profit gains will lead to manufacturers increasing headcount of personnel in other parts of the organizations, sales, marketing, data analytics, IT support, etc.
Military robots will be used extensively on the battlefield
- By 2025 major world militaries will use driverless tanks, driverless armored cars and other driverless vehicles
- This will free up military personnel to conduct reconnaissance and attack missions from behind a ‘safe zone’
- By 2020 smaller more advanced hand held drones will be used extensively on reconnaissance missions inside buildings
- Soldiers will be kitted out with lightweight exoskeleton suits to give them extra strength, agility and protection
- By 2025 Atlas style robots will be used on the battlefield as ground forces
And a bonus — one thing I think is highly probable although not robot related
By 2050 gas stations will disappear to be replaced by electric charging stations
Picture credit, screenshot of Rolls-Royce Future Control Centre
Drone Traffic Management
This is actually quite a big deal – could new jobs be created in Drone Traffic Control?
NASA recently successfully demonstrated rural operations of its unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) traffic management (UTM) concept, integrating operator platforms, vehicle performance and ground infrastructure.
With continued development, the Technical Capability Level One system would enable UAS operators to file flight plans reserving airspace for their operations and provide situational awareness about other operations planned in the area. (NASA Ames Research Center)
Bookshelf: Here Come the Robots
Just when I’ve been thinking about creating a robot book for children along come three!
Heavy construction machinery — bulldozers, diggers, tractors and the like — seem to have cornered the market when it comes to mechanical objects that can be made into emotionally responsive, strikingly human characters in children’s books. But what about the robots? Here in the 21st century, when our vacuums are de facto robots and our cars may well soon be too, when certain parents are as likely to dream of their child learning to code as they are to dream of their child learning Mandarin, shouldn’t robots be getting more picture-book love? (New York Times)
Opening Pandora’s AI Box in Oxford
About three months ago, Dr Simon Stringer, a leading scientist in the field of artificial intelligence at the Oxford centre for theoretical neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence, fell down some stairs and broke his leg.
The convalescence period proved unexpectedly fruitful.
Freed from the daily rigmarole of academic life, you see, Dr Stringer’s mind was able to wander. And so it was, when he least expected it, that the solution to one of the biggest challenges in artificial intelligence — the so-called binding problem — struck him out of the blue. (Iza Kaminska at FT Alphaville)
Will artificial intelligence bring us utopia or destruction?
An interesting (long read) discussion featuring Nick Bostrom’s work on AI and SuperIntelligence.
Can a digital god really be contained?
He (Bostrom) imagines machines so intelligent that merely by inspecting their own code they can extrapolate the nature of the universe and of human society, and in this way outsmart any effort to contain them. “Is it possible to build machines that are not like agents—goal-pursuing, autonomous, artificial intelligences?” he asked me. “Maybe you can design something more like an oracle that can only answer yes or no. Would that be safer? It is not so clear. There might be agent-like processes within it.” Asking a simple question—“Is it possible to convert a DeLorean into a time machine and travel to 1955?”—might trigger a cascade of action as the device tests hypotheses. What if, working through a police computer, it impounds a DeLorean that happens to be convenient to a clock tower? “In fairy tales, you have genies who grant wishes,” Bostrom said. “Almost universally, the moral of those is that if you are not extremely careful what you wish for, then what seems like it should be a great blessing turns out to be a curse.” (New Yorker)
How Artificial Intelligence Will Revolutionize Our Lives
On one hand, it may help cure cancer and let robots rather than humans fight wars; on the other, doctors and lawyers may be out of a job. (National Geographic)
Interview with LinkedIn founder touches on A.I. and basic income
“We cannot ignore this problem. Right now, everybody’s punting. We know the share of income that goes to wages is a declining portion, compared with capital expenditures. What does that mean for jobs? Entrepreneurship is part of the answer. Mass-scale entrepreneurship. Before you even get to A.I.” (The New Yorker)
Are We Approaching an Economic Singularity?
Information Technology and the Future of Economic Growth — The idea here is that rapid growth in computation and artificial intelligence will cross some boundary or Singularity, after which economic growth will accelerate sharply as an ever-increasing pace of improvements cascade through the economy. (William D. Nordhaus NBER Working Paper)
The Future of Work: The Three Dimensions of Artificial Intelligence
What worries you most — and/or excites you most — about the future of work and workers? Put another way: What will be the most consequential changes in the world of work and workers, and what anxieties and possibilities will they produce?
“In periods of technology diffusion including the current period, the future of work and workers depends as much on how we deal with the technology as on the technology itself. It is time we corrected AI’s third dimension so we can return to the job of building the future of work.” (Pacific Standard)
Rodney Brooks warns that technologists must consider how advances in robotics and AI will eradicate jobs.
Brooks admitted he was sometimes guilty of focusing on technological innovation rather than its social implications himself. But he added that it was increasingly clear that this needs to be part of the debate. “Technological innovations can have severe impacts on society,” he said. (MIT Technology Review)
Will Work For Free is a program on technological change that is leading to unemployment in the UK. Sam Vallely believes “all industries will be affected” and goes through them one by one, starting with High Street retail. Retail is the largest employment sector, but is going away, getting replaced by websites and smartphone apps, leaving a small number of specialist stores. Only things like tattooing (maybe) and hairdressing appear to be immune.
The photography company Kodak once employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. But today Kodak is bankrupt. As is Jessop’s the store where we used to go to print the films where our photos were stored on.
So many jobs have disappeared. And what happened to the wealth that those middle-class jobs created? Questions like these will only become more common as robotics and automation hollows out every industry, from media to medicine to manufacturing.
In manufacturing, robots are becoming more adaptive, less pre-programmed and brittle, and more flexible, able to produce new products with less re-programming.
In the agriculture industry, what jobs are left are being replaced by robotic cow milking, automation of crop cultivation, vertical farming and hydroponics.
Automation is starting to enter the health care industry. Smartphone apps can send your heart rate directly to your cardiologist. A 15-year-old from Maryland discovers a way of detecting cancer that looks like it is 99% accurate, 168x faster, 26,000x cheaper than existing methods. Hospitals are getting robot couriers and telepresence robots. And of course IBM’s Watson is helping to diagnose illnesses.
In the food industry, McDonald’s is rolling out kiosks in Europe, and in the US, McDonalds has started replacing drive-thrus with voice recognition systems. Momentum Machines has invented a burger-making machine that can make burgers to order, and FuA-Men Noodles is working on machines to replace chefs completely at restaurants like Panda Express.
But its not all bad news, Vallely also shows the positive side as he points out the benefits to the environment of buying online. And isn’t being forewarned our opportunity to create our own future? Those that don’t may be left on the side…
H/T to Wayne Radinsky
The present is surreal and one thing is for sure, the future will be weirder still. Anders Sandberg of the Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford and other thinkers mull over whether humans might become the pets of intelligent machines; what threat does epidemic disease pose, and why we feel such a need to predict the future anyway.
I believe some of the following video is exaggerated but not too far off what may happen:
Director Biography: Ryan Harding is a photographer and film maker based in London.
Producer: Marianna Petrilli
- Running Time: 11 minutes
- Language: English
- Website: www.ryan-harding.com