The Robot/AI Jobs Debate Is Too Cramped

Using a small army of cheap, recent college graduates; 32 deep learning algorithms; and a Greek Oracle who just escaped from rehab, CrystalBall Associates has produced a forecast of the future they’re confident is 97.82% accurate. The good news: robots and AI won’t create mass unemployment. Instead, millions of people will have a “Last Mile automation” job, helping with training AI/robot algorithms and making the “edge case” decisions AI doesn’t yet know how to do. Their day will sound something like this:
“Yes, that’s a pair of black shoes.”
“No, you shouldn’t have taken that turn.”
“Yes, you should give a refund.”
“Yes.”
“No.”
“Yes.”
“No.”
“I’m not sure, ask my supervisor.”
“Yes.”
“No.”
“No.”
“Yes.”
Every day. For the rest of their working life.

While doing this mindnumbing, soul sucking work, they will live in a world where they are surrounded by a cornucopia of robots, AI, virtual and augmented reality, digital fabrication, and other dazzling, creative technologies.

Yay?

I spent the last six months immersed in the Mixed Reality for All project. Now that it’s over and I’m back to listening to the high-level debate over robots/AI, I’m struck by how cramped this debate feels.

Maybe it’s because of the experience I had teaching how to create virtual reality using A-Frame. I’ve been teaching coding for many years, and this is the first time I giggled so much while creating lessons. Typically, in the first class you learn how to get the computer to print your name and add two numbers together. With VR programming, you start by learning how to create something out of nothing: type a line or two of code and suddenly there are brightly colored balls floating around you. For a moment, I got a glimpse of what it could be like to live in a world where instead of playing a wizard, almost anyone could be a wizard.

We are about to have an opportunity that is unique in human history. It hasn’t gone unnoticed in the robot/AI debate, but it’s an afterthought. In between saying we don’t need to worry about jobs and arguing that we need more training opportunities for future “high skill” work and must do something about inequality, someone will toss in a line about how robot/AI will eliminate a lot of drudge work and create more room for creativity. But they never unpack the implications of that throwaway line.

I think it’s time we start.

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