AI News, Agenda / Artificial Intelligence and Robotics

Tony's Thoughts

 Kevin Roose, a columnist for Business Day and a writer-at-large for The New York Times Magazine, has an article on what he calls “the hidden automation agenda.”  Here is an excerpt (the full article is below): “In public, many executives wring their hands over the negative consequences that artificial intelligence and automation could have for workers.

They take part in panel discussions about building “human-centered A.I.” for the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” — Davos-speak for the corporate adoption of machine learning and other advanced technology — and talk about the need to provide a safety net for people who lose their jobs as a result of automation.

But in private settings, including meetings with the leaders of the many consulting and technology firms whose pop-up storefronts line the Davos Promenade, these executives tell a different story: They are racing to automate their own work forces to stay ahead of the competition, with little regard for the impact on workers.

They take part in panel discussions about building “human-centered A.I.” for the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” — Davos-speak for the corporate adoption of machine learning and other advanced technology — and talk about the need to provide a safety net for people who lose their jobs as a result of automation.

But in private settings, including meetings with the leaders of the many consulting and technology firms whose pop-up storefronts line the Davos Promenade, these executives tell a different story: They are racing to automate their own work forces to stay ahead of the competition, with little regard for the impact on workers.

But at a time of political unrest and anti-elite movements on the progressive left and the nationalist right, it’s probably not surprising that all of this automation is happening quietly, out of public view.

“On one hand,” he said, profit-minded executives “absolutely want to automate as much as they can.” “On the other hand,” he added, “they’re facing a backlash in civic society.” For an unvarnished view of how some American leaders talk about automation in private, you have to listen to their counterparts in Asia, who often make no attempt to hide their aims.

Richard Liu, the founder of the Chinese e-commerce company JD.com, said at a business conference last year that “I hope my company would be 100 percent automation someday.” One common argument made by executives is that workers whose jobs are eliminated by automation can be “reskilled” to perform other jobs in an organization.

In a letter to shareholders last year, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, said that more than 16,000 Amazon warehouse workers had received training in high-demand fields like nursing and aircraft mechanics, with the company covering 95 percent of their expenses.

There are plenty of stories of successful reskilling — optimists often cite a program in Kentucky that trained a small group of former coal miners to become computer programmers — but there is little evidence that it works at scale.

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