While Rice University Professor of Computer Science Moshe Y. Vardi and other experts suggest that few jobs are safe from robots and automation, not many actual workers seem to be concerned.
Just 13 percent of the respondents to a recent Gallup poll fear their professional obsolescence, despite strong indicators that many of their jobs will be subsumed by the growing effectiveness of artificially intelligent robot employees. In a column published by the Daily Mail, Professor Vardi contends that this represents a lack of awareness, rather than any real sign of security. According to Vardi, the upheaval of a labor force forced into retirement by cheaper and more effective machinery “will significantly change many people’s lives in ways that may be painful and enduring.”
Vardi refers to the rise of AI as a “fourth Industrial Revolution.” His warnings echo Russian President Vladimir Putin’s sentiment that “whoever leads in artificial intelligence will rule the world,” which itself prompted tech billionaire Elon Musk to assert that artificial intelligence will be the “most likely cause of WW3.”
The divide between the reality and understanding of this situation is, in and of itself, a real problem. Despite the White House Council of Economic Advisors’ projections of a brutal 83 percent chance that workers making less than $20 per hour will be replaced in a handful of years, only 32 percent of employees in the Gallup poll even thought their benefits might be negatively affected by robots.
The temptation is to believe that while this could happen in general, that it somehow does not apply to one’s specific situation. Unfortunately, that is far from true. From construction workers and freight haulers in manual labor jobs that have remained largely unaffected, to the accountants and lawyers already seeing their jobs performed more efficiently by an algorithm, there is virtually no industry that will be immune to the technological evolution.
The question about robots has changed from “if,” to “when.” Now more than ever, it is important for the American people — and the world at large — to address the consequences of progress, lest our most vulnerable be left behind.
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