How To Survive Automation
Where’s your place in the future of work?
Automation anxiety isn’t new.
In response to Luddites breaking and destroying the technologies they feared would take their jobs, the British parliament passed the ‘Destruction of Stocking Frames, etc. Act’ in 1812, which made such destruction punishable by death.
Long before that, Aristotle considered how if all our tools could perform their tasks by themselves, craftsmen would no longer need servants, and masters would no longer need slaves.
But throughout the big transitions in history — nomadic to agricultural lifestyles, farms to factories — we’ve not run out of jobs. Rather, the new and remaining jobs allowed us to produce more, and the economy grew substantially as a result.
There are serious questions about the quality of the new jobs. Moving from the farm to the factory wasn’t an upgrade for a lot of people. But there were jobs. The jobs of the future may also be more or less appealing, but they will still be there, right?
As a new wave of automation anxiety washes over us, should we look to history and learn the lesson that AI will create new jobs and further increase productivity? Or is AI a fundamentally different beast for which the past can’t prepare us?
“Even if the “this time is different” worry was wrong before, it might still be right today. What’s more, even if history were to repeat itself, we should still beware an excessively optimistic interpretation of the past. Yes, people did tend to find new work after being displaced by technology — but the way in which this happened was far from being gentle or benign.”
— Daniel Susskind, A World Without Work
A Little History
In a sense, artificial intelligence has developed in the opposite direction to human intelligence.
For most of us, the things we struggle with are subjects like logic and math, not telling apart dogs and cats. But in the early days of machine intelligence, the difficult tasks fell first.
So-called ‘symbolic AI’ could do algebra and geometry by the 1960s, as well as play chess and checkers. It was doing the hard stuff, and that prompted us…