Amid major developments in the field of artificial intelligence, there’s a question many of us have been asking ourselves: How long until machines replace us?
New systems from Google and Microsoft — plus a Microsoft partner called OpenAI — are capable of doing things we used to think were uniquely human, like creating original art and generating original writing.
The possibilities are huge. But so are the fears — about jobs and wages in particular.
As artificial intelligence gets better, some expect job security will get worse. In reports like one in Gizmodo earlier this month, titled, “Here Are the Jobs Our New AI Overlords Plan to Kill,” coding or computer programming is often on the list.
But it seems none of the AI coding software currently out there can replace the talent of professional coders. In fact, it may help them.
Sam Zanca, a coder and instructor at General Assembly, a coding school in New York, said AI will “definitely automate the more tedious parts” of his job, “but it’s still a long ways away before having a true impact.”
He’s not very worried about AI right now.
But “the problem is that … I’m not entirely sure if the AI that would replace me is 10 years from now, 20 years from now, or five years from now,” he said.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is a big believer in AI — but not the idea that AI is coming for our jobs.
“I believe it creates more, I will call it both satisfaction in current jobs and net new jobs,” Nadella told CBS News earlier this month.
Ahead of the launch of the new AI-powered Bing, Nadella argued that artificial intelligence could help the economy across the board.
“My biggest worry is we need some new technology … that starts driving real productivity,” Nadella said. “It’s time for some real innovation.”
He believes AI will drive up wages, “because productivity and wages are related.”
But while that may be true in the long run, MIT economist David Autor believes the rise of AI does indeed mean millions of jobs are going to change in our lifetimes. And what’s scary is: we’re not sure how.
“We are very good at forecasting what we will not be doing and very poor at forecasting what we will be doing,” Autor said.
He points out, for example, that more than 60% of the types of jobs people are doing today didn’t even exist in the 1940s, while many of the jobs that did exist have been replaced.
“What we’ve seen over the last four decades in the U.S. and many industrialized economies is what economists call labor market polarization, which means the hollowing out of the middle set of jobs … kind of middle class jobs involving blue collar production and operative work, but also … administrative support clerical tasks,” he said. “We had banks and banks of people who answered phones, who did typing and filing, who reproduced documents, who kept tables and books. Many, many of these things are now done by machines.”
The “hollowing out” of the middle has led to some in the labor market moving up and making more money, while others are now making less — and “that’s especially where the pain happens,” Autor said.
That also troubles Meredith Whittaker, who co-founded the AI Now Institute at New York University to study how all these new systems of artificial intelligence will affect our lives.
“They don’t replace human labor. They just require different forms of labor to sort of babysit them, to train them, to make sure they’re working well,” Whittaker said.
“Whose work will be degraded and whose house in the Hamptons will get another wing?” she asked, clarifying that she uses “degrade” to mean that someone will still have a job, but it will pay less. “I think that’s the fundamental question when we look at these technologies and ask about questions about work.”