from the and-others'-jobs-as-well dept
There's been an awful lot of talk these days about how the machines (and "AI") are coming to take all of our jobs. While I'm definitely of the opinion that the coming changes are likely to be quite disruptive, many of the doom and gloom scenarios are overblown, in that they focus solely on what may be going away, rather than what may be gained. If there's anyone out there who might be forgiven for worrying the most about computers "taking over," it would be Garry Kasparov, the famed chess champion who took on the Deep Blue chess playing computer and lost back in 1997. However, in a new (possibly paywalled) WSJ piece, Kasparov more or less explains how, even now as AI is moving into all sorts of fields previously thought safe from automation, he's come to embrace the possibilities, rather than fear the losses:
It is no secret that I hate losing, and I did not take [losing to Deep Blue] well. But losing to a computer wasn’t as harsh a blow to me as many at the time thought it was for humanity as a whole. The cover of Newsweek called the match “The Brain’s Last Stand.” Those six games in 1997 gave a dark cast to the narrative of “man versus machine” in the digital age, much as the legend of John Henry did for the era of steam and steel.
But it’s possible to draw a very different lesson from my encounter with Deep Blue. Twenty years later, after learning much more about the subject, I am convinced that we must stop seeing intelligent machines as our rivals. Disruptive as they may be, they are not a threat to humankind but a great boon, providing us with endless opportunities to extend our capabilities and improve our lives.
There's a lot more in the essay, but basically Kasparov recognizes that there's tremendous opportunity in looking at what smarter machines can actually do to help more and more people:
What a luxury to sit in a climate-controlled room with access to the sum of human knowledge on a device in your pocket and lament that we don’t work with our hands anymore! There are still plenty of places in the world where people work with their hands all day, and also live without clean water and modern medicine. They are literally dying from a lack of technology.
And, towards the end, he notes that while there may not be easy answers, there are plenty of opportunities. While many people today insist that since they cannot think of what the new jobs will be, there can't possibly be any, the reality is that just a few decades ago, you would probably not have been able to predict many of today's internet/tech related jobs. And Kasparov is optimistic that freeing us up from more menial jobs may open up much greater opportunities for people to put their minds to work:
Compare what a child can do with an iPad in a few minutes to the knowledge and time it took to do basic tasks with a PC just a decade ago. These advances in digital tools mean that less training and retraining are required for those whose jobs are taken by robots. It is a virtuous cycle, freeing us from routine work and empowering us to use new technology productively and creatively.
Machines that replace physical labor have allowed us to focus more on what makes us human: our minds. Intelligent machines will continue that process, taking over the more menial aspects of cognition and elevating our mental lives toward creativity, curiosity, beauty and joy. These are what truly make us human, not any particular activity or skill like swinging a hammer—or even playing chess.
I am sure that some will dismiss this as a retread of techno-utopianism, but I think it's important for people to be focusing on more broadly understanding these changes. That doesn't mean ignoring or downplaying the disruption for those whose lives it will certainly impact, but so much of the discussion has felt like people throwing up their arms helplessly. There will be opportunities for new types of work, but part of that is having more people thinking through these possibilities and building new companies and services that recognize this future. Even if you can't predict exactly what kinds of new jobs there will be (or even if you're convinced that no new jobs will be coming), it's at the very least a useful thought exercise to start thinking through some possibilities to better reflect where things are going, and Kasparov's essay is a good start.