Nothing gets the Silicon Valley-obsessed media more excited than watching the online mud-wrestling of two tech titans, especially when the fight is over the hottest topic of the day: Will AI destroy our jobs or will it be a force for good?
It all started with Elon Musk declaring that “robots will be able to do everything better than us,” creating the “biggest risk that we face as a civilization.” To which Mark Zuckerberg responded that the “naysayers” drumming up “doomsday scenarios” are “pretty irresponsible.” Musk retorted on Twitter (where else?) “I’ve talked to Mark about this. His understanding of the subject is limited,” and Zuckerberg blogged on Facebook (where else?) that he is “excited about all the progress [in AI] and it’s [sic] potential to make the world better.”
And so it goes. I don’t agree with the notion that only people who are actually doing AI can comment on AI and I’m sure both Musk’s and Zuckerberg’s understanding of AI is not limited. Like the rest of us, however, they inject into the debate their own biases, perspectives, and ambitions. It may help anyone interested in the question of what AI will do or not do to our jobs and civilization to study its history (you may want to start here), to look for evidence refuting what we believe in, and to assessments of the current and future impact of AI technologies that are based on relevant data analyzed with minimal assumptions.
Surveys, interviews and conversations with the people that actually make decisions about creating or eliminating jobs are an example of the latter category and they often serve as the basis for market landscape descriptions and better-informed speculations from industry analysts. A recent case in point—and recommended reading—is “Automation technologies, Robotics, and AI in the Workplace, Q2 2017” from Forrester’s J.P. Gownder (his blog post on the report is here).