Reprogramming the American Dream: From Rural America to Silicon Valley – Making AI Serve Us All by Kevin Scott

8. AI: A Threat or a Boon to Jobs?

  • Kevin believes that the future of work will evolve in less extreme ways than either the most pessimistic or optimistic predictions suggest and that we will have time to help workers adapt. AI can even be used to match people with open jobs and predict where jobs will be. People will work with AI to run indoor verticle farms that supply food locally. Automated jobs are less likely to be offshored keeping jobs in the US. Tomorrow’s jobs will be more technically demanding, but they won’t disappear. They will also be less menial and more rewarding. Businesses that automate and use existing staff to do more advanced work will win out over companies that just automate to cut staff.
  • As businesses mature they naturally become more productive so fewer people can do the same work. This can allow them to expand without laying off workers as workers re-skill. AI has allowed the direct-to-consumer market to expand so people can purchase customized products online. Meanwhile, politicians who push for higher minimum wages and higher taxes on companies are at the same time introducing additional incentives to accelerate automation. A prime example here is replacing cashiers with kiosks.

9. Politics and Ethics

  • The concept here is equity, which includes bringing broadband Internet to rural communities. Kevin offers four pillars. 1) AI must allow any person or business to enhance their creativity and productivity to help solve society’s big problems. 2) Ideally, everyone can participate in AI development including the debate over how it evolves and is governed. 3) We need to be focused on how this energy will benefit all people. 4) We must work to avoid bad consequences and to mitigate them when they occur.
  • There are five important roles. Experts have the greatest influence and responsibility. They need to attend to the four pillars and open-source their work. They need a code of ethics like other professions. They should also be involved in creating regulations as legislators are not able to do so. Executives create and maintain the environment where the work gets done. Don’t just develop AI to replace people and develop the people who would otherwise be replaced. Also, get as smart as you can about AI. Policy makers need to be informed have a set of guiding principles. Reinvest savings and profit and don’t tax the robots as this will just chase work offshore. Subsidize trade schools. Work to create an “Apollo” program for AI. Citizens need to commit to learning as much as they can about AI and elect the right policymakers.

Conclusion

  • A recurring theme in this book is the need to close the digital divide by ensuring that everyone has access to broadband Internet. The right kind of technical education also needs to be available to everyone. Even if we all can’t program computers, anyone should be able to teach computers. It’s important that we incent technologies that make human subsistence cheaper as we help everyone find agency and purpose in an AI-powered future. We also must defend everyone from the misuse of AI. People will be replaced due to AI. They need to be reskilled and we need a safety net while they retrain. Kevin’s bet is that AI will create more jobs and prosperity than any technology in history. It can be a force multiplier for human ingenuity as it does the grunt work. There is much to be hopeful about and hope is important. Hope, however, is not a strategy so there is work to be done. Thanks, Kevin.

Kevin Scott

  • Kevin is executive vice president and chief technology officer of Microsoft. He has held executive and engineering positions at LinkedIn and Google. He built and led the technology team of pioneering mobile advertising startup AdMob, which was acquired by Google in 2016. He received a Google Founder’s Award, and Intel PhD Fellowship, and an ACM Recognition of Service Award. He is an adviser to several Silicon Valley start-ups, an active angel investor, the founder of the nonprofit organization Behind the Teach, the host of the Behind the Teach podcast, and as an emeritus trustee of the Anita Borg Institute. Scott holds an MS in computer science from Wake Forrest University and a BS in computer science from Lynchburg College. He has completed most of his PhD in computer science at the University of Virginia. Follow him on Twitter @kevin_scott.
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