The singularity isn’t coming: so what is?

This NYT article is getting some play among colleagues:

I get it: the article usefully refocuses us from the coming of the supposed singularity when AI will go from being about specific domains (eg chess or go) to cross-domain general intelligence (think Skynet). It’s not going to happen.

Be careful what you wish for though. The article is written by a venture capitalist who literally admits to making banking even worse (?) by investing in a loan company using algorithms that will issue 30 million loans annually “with virtually no human involvement.” Way to make banking even more soulless.

More seriously, the guy’s vision is dispiriting in the extreme. He sees AI displacing workers en mass, which will result in the further concentration of wealth in fewer hands, and an employment future mainly made up of what he calls “service jobs of love”:

These are jobs that AI cannot do, that society needs and that give people a sense of purpose. Examples include accompanying an older person to visit a doctor, mentoring at an orphanage…the volunteer service jobs of today, in other words, may turn into the real jobs of tomorrow.

He grants there may be higher-paying jobs where humans act as an “interface” to the AI. (No, thanks). And this will have to paid for by huge tax increases and we’ll all work fewer hours. Geographically, it’s even worse. Unless you’re the USA or China, you’ve had it (wasn’t it Japan that was supposed to eat the world technologically just a decade or so ago?).

We’ve heard this mantra before (Keynes) and usually the opposite happens: people have to work twice or three times as much to make a living. These highly abstract pronouncements, divorced from geographic and social reality (China’s population is aging, it has a disastrous environment) also ignore politics. Where jobs will change is not just because of technology as a driver, but according to a new report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) climate change, new job types, changing aspirations of women, “geopolitical volatility,” an emerging middle class in developing countries, and privacy issues. Robots and AI account for only 9% and 7% of respondents rating them as top drivers of change.

So absent a politically unlikely universal basic income (UBI, which he does mention without saying how it might come about), we should remember that this is from a guy actively trying to bring this future into reality. “Know your enemy” is good advice, but let’s do it critically.

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