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‘Death to the Machines’ – Will Low-Skilled Workers Revolt?

by | May 27, 2018 | Narrated News, Science


Most surveys questioning people’s attitudes of artificial intelligence, robots, and autonomy reveal feelings of fear, apprehension, and resentment. A myriad of motion pictures, television shows, and novels grappling with the issue of AI typically present us with an apocalyptic future in which populations are either eviscerated or enslaved, not enriched. Of course, the concern we have today, especially among the middle America working-class, is of the robot eventually replacing the human worker.

The greatest of minds – Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Stephen Hawking – have repeatedly mused on the subject, warning mankind of a destructive tomorrow. Their doom-and-gloom outlooks have captured international headlines, leading pundits and politicos to demand pre-emptive action, whether in the forms of taxation, regulation, or a guaranteed basic income from the government, to ensure humanity isn’t economically wiped out, particularly from the job market.

With all of the pessimistic commentary out there, the key question is: are we overreacting? Moreover, are we attempting to resist the inevitability of a remarkable tool that will benefit more than harm?

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg could be right:

“Whenever I hear people saying AI is going to hurt people in the future, I think yeah, you know, technology can generally always be used for good and bad, and you need to be careful about how you build it and you need to be careful about what you build and how it is going to be used.

But people who are arguing for slowing down the process of building AI, I just find that really questionable. I have a hard time wrapping my head around that.”

Will Low-Skilled Workers Survive?

Advanced automation – digital personal assistants, self-driving automobiles, and sex robots – is gradually becoming a reality for the world. Amid its rise, many believe that low-skilled workers may be the first casualty in the labor market, and this is forming immense anxiety worldwide. If workers are out of work and do not have any prospects on the horizon, they will be negatively impacted financially, professionally, and even emotionally – everyone knows the depression that comes from joblessness.

Physicist and bestselling author Michio Kaku explains that these worries and reservations are healthy. We generally don’t like change; we prefer the comfort of the status quo. However, once they see the results in practice, these same people will conclude that it’s “a step forward” and will ultimately embrace the change like they do now with ATMs, self-serve checkouts, and mobile apps.

Indeed, there is no real evidence to surmise that AI will kill jobs. From the invention of the wheel to the creation of the personal computer, we have discovered resourceful ways of performing tasks that were previously completed by unaided humans. Yet, have these labor-saving innovations impoverished us? Have they left the whole nation unemployed? Has the world transformed into those campy 1970s doomsday Charlton Heston films?

Innovations spawned from the mind of man and produced with capital have enhanced our material and non-material standards of living. We are better off today than at any other time in history – and life continues to improve because of technology.

Prior to the age of industrialization, nearly everyone resided and worked on farms. Thanks to automation, the entire population was liberated from toiling the fields of wheat and cows, free to pursue interests, invent new goods and services, hone their crafts. All of these developments have improved our living standards – from the automobile to the smartphone.

Industries Die and Industries Form

No one will against argue the fact that some industries and jobs will become obsolete. Carriage makers, icemen, and lamplighters once were jobs that employed tens of thousands of people in the U.S.; the car, the refrigerator, and the light bulb destroyed these middle-class positions, but there wasn’t widespread unemployment.

Ditto for the ATM, which many experts said would leave scores of people out of work. It is true that bank tellers are not as prevalent as they were 20 years ago, but studies have found that branches transferred redundant tellers into other roles, allowing financial institutions to concentrate on other aspects of the business or to create entirely new products and services.

If someone is terminated from a business, then they might need to fill the demand in other sectors. When oil prices collapsed a few years ago, petroleum engineers were not thriving and applied their skills to other areas of the economy. Fast forward to today, and they, as well as other industry professionals, are back in demand once again. It is a great example of how the laws of supply and demand impact labor just as much as your average glass of orange juice or Uber ride.

Human capital is another tool in your professional arsenal. Sure, improving your human capital is necessary, but this is true for every person in any industry. A freelance writer, for instance, needs to be on top of a diverse panoply of topics. A digital marketer, as another example, must be aware of new technologies being formed. Coders should learn the latest programming languages – imagine if everyone only knew Ada!

Keep Calm and Embrace Automation

The way the media, the state, and the public carry on about AI is comparable to the famous shrieking of “death to the machines!” from Fritz Lang’s epic 1927 picture, Metropolis. There are several aspects of AI that we should be uneasy about, such as spying and privacy invasions. These are human errors, not the faults of tools. In the end, you shouldn’t be too worried overall about AI; HAL will open up the pod doors, Deep Blue will only kill the queen in chess, and C-3PO will still bungle around, talking gibberish.

Are you scared of artificial intelligence? Let us know in the comments section!

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