Robots won’t steal our jobs if we put workers at center of AI revolution – Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

From The Conversation

The technologies driving artificial intelligence are expanding exponentially, leading many technology experts and futurists to predict machines will soon be doing many of the jobs that humans do today. Some even predict humans could lose control over their future.

While we agree about the seismic changes afoot, we don’t believe this is the right way to think about it. Approaching the challenge this way assumes society has to be passive about how tomorrow’s technologies are designed and implemented. The truth is there is no absolute law that determines the shape and consequences of innovation. We can all influence where it takes us.

Thus, the question society should be asking is: “How can we direct the development of future technologies so that robots complement rather than replace us?”

The Japanese have an apt phrase for this: “giving wisdom to the machines.” And the wisdom comes from workers and an integrated approach to technology design, as our research shows.

Lessons from history

There is no question coming technologies like AI will eliminate some jobs, as did those of the past.

More than half of the American workforce was involved in farming in the 1890s, back when it was a physically demanding, labor-intensive industry. Today, thanks to mechanization and the use of sophisticated data analytics to handle the operation of crops and cattle, fewer than 2 percent are in agriculture, yet their output is significantly higher.

But new technologies will also create new jobs. After steam engines replaced water wheels as the source of power in manufacturing in the 1800s, the sector expanded sevenfold, from 1.2 million jobs in 1830 to 8.3 million by 1910. Similarly, many feared that the ATM’s emergence in the early 1970s would replace bank tellers. Yet even though the machines are now ubiquitous, there are actually more tellers today doing a wider variety of customer service tasks.

So trying to predict whether a new wave of technologies will create more jobs than it will destroy is not worth the effort, and even the experts are split 50-50.

It’s particularly pointless given that perhaps fewer than 5 percent of current occupations are likely to disappear entirely in the next decade, according to a detailed study by McKinsey.

Instead, let’s focus on the changes they’ll make to how people work.

Read the full post at The Conversation.

Thomas Kochan is the George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management, a Professor of Work and Employment Research, and the CoDirector of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

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