Should we be wary of AI, ML and Robots?
Recently, I have read a great deal about Artificial Intelligence(AI), Machine Learning(ML) and how Robots continue to change the world. As many articles exist on the benefits, there are many who write about what this will mean for workers.
Many a writer has pined on how robots took over mundane tasks in manufacturing, freeing workers from repetitive tasks. We have to acknowledge that the gains made in speed, efficiency, accuracy, and volume was offset by people not being able to make a living for their families. Neither side of the political spectrum spent much political capital to develop programs to retrain, refocus and reset that current working generation, or the ones under them to take on new work.
I find it interesting that many concerns I have read about all have to do with robots, rather than thinking machines. There is great concern about robots that look humanoid, can walk, talk, respond and look like us. Not as much concern for a box in the corner of a building whose processing power alone can replace hundreds of workers.
I would like to believe that for many workers replaced by AI, the world would make sure to educate, re-train and redeploy those workers in other fields. I have often wondered why the US doesn’t aggressively move labor tied to manufacturing and textile to renewable energy technologies. Fields like solar and wind would appear to be a high demand for a different skill set. I would also like to believe that everyone in the country who wants to have an education can get one without going into severe debt. College educated employees have the brightest long term future for wages. However, for those who don’t believe college is the path for them, there should be opportunities to develop skills that are relevant for the future.
These visions don’t appear to be clad in much reality. Often what we see are groups of people falling through the cracks, with unforeseen downstream consequences like addiction, suicide, and depression. We aren’t doing enough to make sure that these concerns are listened to or dealt with.
We observe the impact of inaction in election results and policy. Politicians who want to exploit the fears of an impacted group are easily able to do so. Few promises are delivered with long term solutions, as the next election cycle is around the corner. We don’t see wage increases or skills development for people without college degrees. This results in our ability to create a stronger middle class. The gap between the haves and have-nots is increasing while creating unhealthy tensions.
It is difficult to write about these topics without coming across as some paranoid Luddite. For a technologist like me, it is even harder because of how strongly I believe technology has improved lives. The decisions we make with technology do cause a rise of some negative factors seen in today’s society. The short-term actions we take today impact the lives of so many families in ways we cannot see, tomorrow. Being concerned about this doesn’t make us snowflakes, socialists or any other pejorative term. It just makes us better people, ensuring a brighter future for those impacted by the technology we all believe in.