Will Artificial Intelligence Create More Jobs Than It Eliminates? Maybe

Over at the MIT Sloan Management Review, H. James Wilson, Paul R. Daugherty, and Nicola Morini-Bianzino strike an optimistic note as they respond to the “distressing picture” created by “the threat that automation will eliminate a broad swath of jobs across the world economy [for] as artificial intelligence (AI) systems become ever more sophisticated, another wave of job displacement will almost certainly occur.” Wilson, Daugherty, and Morini-Bianzino suggest that we’ve been “overlooking” the fact that “many new jobs will also be created — jobs that look nothing like those that exist today.” They go on to identify three key positions:

Trainers

This first category of new jobs will need human workers to teach AI systems how they should perform — and it is emerging rapidly. At one end of the spectrum, trainers help natural-language processors and language translators make fewer errors. At the other end, they teach AI algorithms how to mimic human behaviors.

Explainers

The second category of new jobs — explainers — will bridge the gap between technologists and business leaders. Explainers will help provide clarity, which is becoming all the more important as AI systems’ opaqueness increases.

Sustainers

The final category of new jobs our research identified — sustainers — will help ensure that AI systems are operating as designed and that unintended consequences are addressed with the appropriate urgency.

Unfortunately for these claims, it is all too evident that these positions themselves are vulnerable to automation. That is, future trainers, explainers, and sustainers–if their job descriptions match the ones given above–will also be automated. Nothing in those descriptions indicates that humans are indispensable components of the learning processes they are currently facilitating.

Consider that the ’empathy trainer’ Koko is a machine-learning system which “can help digital assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa address people’s questions with sympathy and depth.” Currently Koko is being trained by a human; but it will then go on to teach Siri and Alexa. Teachers are teaching future teachers how to be teachers; after which they will teach on their own. Moreover, there is no reason why chatbots, which currently need human trainers, cannot be trained–as they already are–on increasingly large corpora of natural language texts like the collections of the world’s libraries (which consist of human inputs.)

Or consider that explainers may rely on an algorithmic system like “the Local Interpretable Model-Agnostic Explanations (LIME), which explains the underlying rationale and trustworthiness of a machine prediction”; human analysts use its output to “pinpoint the data that led to a particular result.” But why wouldn’t LIME’s functioning be enhanced to do the relevant ‘pinpointing’ itself, thus obviating the need for a human analyst?

Finally, note that “AI may become more self-governing….an AI prototype named Quixote…can learn about ethics by reading simple stories….the system is able to “reverse engineer” human values through stories about how humans interact with one another. Quixote has learned…why stealing is not a good idea….even given such innovations, human ethics compliance managers will play a critical role in monitoring and helping to ensure the proper operation of advanced systems.” This sounds like the roles and responsibilities for humans in this domain will decrease over time.

There is no doubt that artificial intelligence systems require human inputs, supervision, training, and maintenance; but those roles are diminishing, not increasing; short-term, local, requirements for human skills will not necessarily translate into long-term, global, ones. The economic impact of the coming robotics and artificial intelligence ‘revolution’ is still unclear.

Nicholas Kristof is Gullible, Very Gullible

Nicholas Kristof thinks conservatives are–like a broken clock–right at least some of the time. Kristof, unfortunately, is just wrong throughout his latest limp Op-Ed. To borrow a line from Steven Soderbergh‘s plainspoken Limey they are right precisely the ‘square root of sweet FA‘ number of times – a vanishingly small number.

What are the conservatives right about? Or at least, what ‘ideas’ are they supposed to be credited with?

First:

STRONG FAMILIES Conservatives highlight the primacy of family and argue that family breakdown exacerbates poverty, and they’re right.

Except that they don’t care about family. War–a favorite preoccupation of conservatives–is not family-friendly, and neither is unrelenting hostility to family-planning, maternity leave, paternity leave, and flexible work-schedules. Heck, hostility to women doesn’t seem particularly family-friendly.

Second:

JOB CREATION President Reagan was right when he said that the best social program is a job. Good jobs also strengthen families.

But conservatives don’t care about  job creation. Their interest in exacerbating income inequality doesn’t show an interest in job creation; their enthrallment by corporate ideals doesn’t either. Come to think of it, the wholesale enthusiasm for trade treaties that result in a net loss of jobs doesn’t seem to indicate an interest in job creation either.

Third,

SCHOOL REFORM Republicans were right to blow the whistle on broken school systems, for education in inner-city schools is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Democrats, in cahoots with teachers’ unions and protective of a dysfunctional system, were long part of the problem.

This makes me want to throw up. In fact, I think I just did. Remember war and its budgets? Or taxes on the rich? Or, income inequality and attendant poverty in the  inner city? Or racism? A lack of interest in ameliorating the effects of these doesn’t seem to indicate an interest in school reform. Kristof, bizarrely enough, seems ignorant enough to believe that conservative ‘concern’ about school systems has nothing to do with hostility to the idea of organized labor.

When conservatives espouse the ideas that Kristof so misguidedly praises them for, they are merely using them as stepping-stones to reach other targets. Concern for the family seeks to demonize working women, to restrict sexual and reproductive choice;concern for job creation is a ploy to secure tax breaks, to further protect the economic privileges of their class; concern for schools is a ruse to push through their anti-union agenda (and now, increasingly to reward their fat-cat friends in the testing and charter school industry).

Kristof imagines that somehow, in each case, he can separate out the holding of an ‘idea’ or ‘belief’ and the prescriptions that are intended to achieve its aims. But you can’t do that. Your prescriptions for the ‘problem’ reveal, quite clearly, whether you actually hold that belief or not. We reveal our beliefs by our actions; Kristof should know that much.

Kristof’s biggest problem is quite simple and represents an acute intellectual failure: he confuses mere lip-service with an actual intellectual standpoint. He does not want to look past the posturing; he is content with sound bites and insincerity. This is gullibility of the highest order.