Artificial Intelligence and Automation

  • America needs to take the lead in automation. We can't compete with other countries in manufacturing unless we automate faster than they are.   
  • We need to drastically lower the cost of education and retraining
  • We need to extend our unemployment benefits and pair them with retraining programs
  • We need to create comprehensive lists of skills and jobs by their susceptibility to automation and their projected timeline for automation
  • Automation is happening. We can either be the first in the world, (right now we're not even close) or we can hold onto the past and lose money every day to the countries who chose to race to win. 

   Artificial Intelligence, automation, and additive manufacturing have grown dramatically over the past few years.  Computer programs already beat us in a wide range of specific tasks, from simple calculation, to image recognition, lip reading, facial recognition, identifying emotions through micro facial expressions, speech transcription, games of every kind, reading comprehension in sets of data and the ability to summarize and answer questions about data sets, even identifying eye disorders or cancer in patients, and the list goes on.  Experts in the field are constantly updating and lowering their predictions on when a general AI, one single system that can jump between all these tasks with the same level of accuracy, will be possible. 

   As of last year, the most comprehensive survey to date carried out by Oxford University, asked 1,634 experts in the field to set the date for when unaided machines would perform better and cheaper than humans in every task.  352 researchers responded.  The average response was around 45 years.  It’s around 30 years according to Asian researchers, 74 years according to North American respondents, and 10% of researchers believe it will be reached within 9 years. 

   To put this into perspective, a survey was carried out in 2015 to ask when a computer would beat a human master at the game of Go.  The average prediction was 2027.  Instead, Alphago beat the world champion a year and a half later in 2017.  Now, in 2018 the world champions compare it to playing against a god.  

   The point isn’t if or when human level artificial intelligence might be possible.  It's to realize that things are changing and will continue to change rapidly.  A car doesn’t need to know how to play Go.  It just needs to know how to drive to replace trucking which is one of the most common jobs in this country.

   A Forrester Research report released at the end of 2017 claims automation will eliminate 9% of American jobs by the end of 2018 and only create 2%.  A federal report released in 2016 claimed that only around 10% of jobs were at risk over the next decade while another federal report claimed 47% were at risk over the next two.  Reports by the UN peg the numbers at anywhere from 25% to 60% over the next 17 years and an Oxford University study is claiming at least 50% of all US jobs will be gone in that time.  The World Economic Forum is predicting that at least 35% of all core skills needed across the workforce will change by 2020 and that urgent action is needed to prepare and retrain our workforce.

   The last 2 years saw so much growth in machine learning that the average person hasn’t caught up.  These advancements are so recent that they're only just beginning to be implemented in the workplace. Every report says that our white collar jobs will be hit the hardest and fastest, followed by our blue collar and finally our service workers. We can't wait until our workforce is already crippled.  We have to prepare now.

   Our country is lagging behind the rest of the world in how quickly automation is being introduced.  We put ourselves at a massive disadvantage when we're not able to perform as efficiently as our neighbors.  

   Our goal shouldn't be to hold onto jobs at the cost of efficiency and slowly decline as a nation.  What we are doing right now is exactly that.  Our goal should be to rise to the challenge, be ahead of everyone else, and streamline our education and retraining processes so that our workforce can adapt and stay in the game.

   These are real issues, and real issues can be scary to talk about.  But, our current policy of essentially burying our heads in the sand and doubling down on the status quo will catch up with us.  Other countries such as South Korea, China, Japan, and Germany are automating and dropping the price of goods and services at an alarming rate.  By being last in line we'll continue to feel safe with the way things are.  We'll also continue to lose our competitive edge, and seed more and more jobs and resources to them.  We need to be brave, take charge, and face this new world head on while we still have the economic power to do it.  

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Paid for by Joshua Williamson 2018
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