Nathan Myhrvold, prolific renaissance man and former Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft, offers his perspective on the impact of Artificial Intelligence and its potential to destroy many jobs. Given his life experiences, I take heart to read what he writes.
At the same time, the unfathomable range and diversity of technology interconnects weaving through every facet of our lives, leads me to think some form of emergent intelligence will take root in ways completely unforeseen by our best and brightest thinkers.
Whenever an impressive new technology comes along, people rush to imagine the havoc it could wreak on society, and they overreact. Today we see this happening with artificial intelligence (AI). I was at South by Southwest last month, where crowds were buzzing about Elon Musk’s latest hyperbolic claim that AI poses a far greater danger to humanity than nuclear weapons. Some economists have similarly sounded alarms that automation will put nearly half of all jobs in the U.S. at risk by 2030. The drumbeat of doomsaying has people spooked: a Gallup/Northeastern study published in March found that about three out of four Americans are convinced that AI will destroy more jobs than it creates.
The word “computer” was, for centuries, a job title. From the 1600s onward, human computers did calculations—initially by pen and paper—to create navigational tables, accounting ledgers and the like. By the 1960s, the workers had slide rules and mechanical calculators to help them, but these jobs were still around. NASA relied heavily on flesh-and-blood computers, like Katherine Johnson and her team of African-American women, to do calculations for the early space missions, as recounted in the 2016 feature film Hidden Figures.
This situation is a classic example of something that the innovation doomsayers routinely forget: in almost all areas where we have deployed computers, the more capable the computers have become, the wider the range of uses we have found for them. It takes a lot of human effort and jobs to satisfy that rising demand. […]