The AI Elephant In The Room

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American tech leaders briefed President Trump’s daughter and son-in-law earlier this week about asserting US leadership on emerging tech issues like 5G and quantum computing.

Ivanka went on to speak at an innovation conference later that same day, and said that automation may replace certain jobs, but that she sees skills training as a way to retool workers for better employment.

“Innovation is always a net positive,” she said.

It’s all a lie.

AI isn’t just another machine that’ll put some workers out of a job, but rather an existential threat to the very concept of work. AI learns faster than people, retains knowledge better, improves itself more consistently, and therefore promises to replace not just the easiest or most redundant tasks on a factory floor, but the jobs involved in enabling and managing that automation.

After a point, AI won’t need humans to do the training or operating (learning happens through a process called “experience replay”), and that includes all of the child geniuses being encouraged to attend coding camps. Already, DeepMind’s AlphaZero program “is showing signs of human-like intuition and creativity.” 

Society is on its way to being utterly transformed, only nobody talks in such terms, even those tech leaders who certainly know the stakes. They’re either overwhelmed by the scope of the change underway, or convinced that they’ll stay immune from it long enough to make oodles of money. 

Better employment? We should be fundamentally rethinking how societies define purpose, and how individuals define value. Whatever “jobs” are created by AI will have little resemblance to any prior jobs, or even our understanding of work itself.

It’s not inherently bad, just wildly complicated and just a little bit scary. It would help if those who know better would tell the rest of us the truth instead of lying about it.

Ivanka’s praise of innovation as an intrinsic good is also common among people who should know better. It’s also not true.

History is chocked full of innovations that weren’t terribly good. Child labor was an innovation. So was the machine gun, and so are opioids.

People determine whether innovation is “good” or “bad” depending on the problems they set out to solve, and to what uses they put their solutions. So where’s the Manhattan Project focused on innovating work, or whatever?

I guess it doesn’t matter. The elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about is that DeepMind’s AI will decide what to do with us soon enough.

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