THE FEAR OF AI IS REAL

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NUMBERS & NERVES

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Technology that assists us is compelling. If something can reduce the tedium or manage the redundancy of life, we want more of it. We don’t, however, particularly like the idea of being replaced.

Technology legend Kevin Kelly writes in his book The Inevitable, “The robot takeover will be epic.” These words scare some people. Even information-intensive jobs like doctors, lawyers, architects, programmers, and probably writers and podcasters can be automated. Artificial intelligence now enables real time language translation. That is a new human ability being performed by artificial intelligence. Just six months ago at the time of this book, computers surpassed a human’s ability to translate speech. Computers are now better at recognizing images and predicting events. At this year’s CES, there’s a strip club in Las Vegas where CES attendees are flocking to check out the novelty of robot pole dancers. The robot dancers were originally a commentary on voyeurism and the surveillance state; the robots’ heads are CCTV security cameras—but still.

In 2013 a Pew research report stated that approximately 80 percent of people thought that half of the current jobs would be replaced by robots or artificial intelligence. A follow up question asked how likely they thought that their job would be replaced. Nobody believed their roles were at risk. That is human logic for you: Everyone believes that most of the jobs will be replaced, and no one believes it will impact them.

The robots aren’t coming. They’re already here. As someone who has dedicated my career to making data a 24/7 utility in organizations, I believe that leaders do themselves a huge disservice when they do not embrace data driven decision making, predictive analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI). It is a lot like parents who allow their children to shy away from math. As a society, our single biggest a crime (against our own humanity) is running away from math, data, and new technology. Turning away from learning these things actively destroys the future.

The fear of AI is well founded. Robots are learning the repetitive work of lower wage workers. AI will eliminate jobs, a lot of them.

Foxconn, the manufacturing company for Apple, has stated it wants to replace all of its workers with robots. A central side effect to automation that would specifically benefit a company like Foxconn. The manufacturer has been plagued by its sometimes abysmal worker conditions and a high rate of employee suicide. So much so in fact that Foxconn had to install suicide netting at factories throughout China and take measures to protect itself against employee litigation. By replacing humans with robots, Foxconn would relieve itself of any issues stemming from its treatment of workers without having to actually improve living and working conditions or increase wages. But in doing so, it will ultimately end up putting hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people out of work.

Retraining is going to be very important. It’s been a need for a long time.

Over the last twenty years, we’ve seen a lot of transformations. The smart phone took away cameras leaving Eastman Kodak completely unprepared. It also consolidated the power of a computer and put it in your pocket. Having one became a status symbol around the world. Social networks reduced the barriers between professional and personal spheres and fundamentally changed how we do business, eat, date, get in shape, consume news, interact with our cars and homes—everything has changed. We are monitored and connected at all times through the applications we choose to use.

Humans have never experienced the kind of change artificial intelligence is bringing with it. AI is going to impact the very systems in which we operate such as our economies and geopolitical systems. It will be traumatic. Wealth will shift around differently. It is true that whomever rules AI will rule the world. Apple is close to becoming a trillion-dollar company. What if there were other trillion-dollar companies in the future? What are the global economic implications of that to our market economies?

AI is one very important truth and one with which we must reckon. And, there is another kind of truth to seek.