business news in context, analysis with attitude

The New Yorker has an excellent and provocative piece about concerns that the rapid growth of robotics, AI and machine learning will have a dramatic impact on the future of work, with some predicting that close to 50 percent of jobs in the US could be affected by this technological revolution.

What’s required, the story suggests, is a sense of context and a reality check - predictions are just that, and not inevitable:

“People who are in the business of selling predictions need to present the past as predictable - the ground truth, the test case. Machines are more predictable than people, and in histories written by futurists the machines just keep coming; depicting their march as unstoppable certifies the futurists’ predictions. But machines don’t just keep coming. They are funded, invented, built, sold, bought, and used by people who could just as easily not fund, invent, build, sell, buy, and use them. Machines don’t drive history; people do. History is not a smart car.”

And, it goes on:

“The robots-are-coming omen-reading borrows as much from the conventions of science fiction as from those of historical analysis. It uses “robot” as a shorthand for everything from steam-powered looms to electricity-driven industrial assemblers and artificial intelligence, and thus has the twin effects of compressing time and conflating one thing with another. It indulges in the supposition that work is something the wealthy hand out to the poor, from feudalism to capitalism, instead of something people do, for reasons that include a search for order, meaning, and purpose.”

You can read the entire story here.
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