Then there are the symbiotic optimists, who think that AI combined with
humans should be better than either one
alone. This will be true for certain professions—doctors, lawyers—but most jobs
won’t fall in that category. Instead they
are routine, single-domain jobs where AI
excels over the human by a large margin.
Others think we’ll be saved by a universal basic income. “Take the extra
money made by AI and distribute it to
the people who lost their jobs,” they say.
“This additional income will help people
find their new path, and replace other
types of social welfare.” But UBI doesn’t
address people’s loss of dignity or meet
their need to feel useful. It’s just a convenient way for a beneficiary of the AI
revolution to sit back and do nothing.
And finally, there are those who deny
that AI has any downside at all—which
is the position taken by many of the
largest AI companies. It’s unfortunate
that AI experts aren’t trying to solve the
problem. What’s worse, and unbelievably selfish, is that they actually refuse
to acknowledge the problem exists in the
These changes are coming, and we
need to tell the truth and the whole
truth. We need to find the jobs that AI
can’t do and train people to do them. We
need to reinvent education. These will be
the best of times and the worst of times.
If we act rationally and quickly, we can
bask in what’s best rather than wallow
in what’s worst.
Kai-Fu Lee is the founder and CEO of
Sinovation Ventures and president of
the Sinovation Ventures Artificial
maker Solyndra was hammered as crony
capitalism. Truckers are now appealing
to President Donald Trump and Congress
to stop testing of autonomous trucks.
The rise of China as an AI superpower isn’t a big deal just for China. The
competition between the US and China
has sparked intense advances in AI that
will be impossible to stop anywhere. The
change will be massive, and not all of it
good. Inequality will widen. As my Uber
driver in Cambridge has already intuited,
AI will displace a large number of jobs,
which will cause social discontent. Consider the progress of Google DeepMind’s
AlphaGo software, which beat the best
human players of the board game Go in
early 2016. It was subsequently bested by
AlphaGo Zero, introduced in 2017, which
learned by playing games against itself
and within 40 days was superior to all
the earlier versions. Now imagine those
improvements transferring to areas like
customer service, telemarketing, assembly lines, reception desks, truck driving,
and other routine blue-collar and white-collar work. It will soon be obvious that
half of our job tasks can be done better at
almost no cost by AI and robots. This will
be the fastest transition humankind has
experienced, and we’re not ready for it.
Not everyone agrees with my view.
Some people argue that it will take longer than we think before jobs disappear,
since many jobs will be only partially
replaced, and companies will try to redeploy those displaced internally. But even
if true, that won’t stop the inevitable.
Others remind us that every technology
revolution has created new jobs as it displaced old ones. But it’s dangerous to
assume this will be the case again.
It will soon be obvious that half our tasks can be done better
at almost no cost by AI. This will be the fastest transition
humankind has experienced, and we’re not ready for it.
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