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9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation

Kevin Roose

More books on Inventions

Innovation is not irreversible. We have decided to limit or eliminate,nuclear weapons, asbestos insulation and lead paint, all of which were originally touted as tech progress.

No such thing as The Future, just an infinite number of possibilities, each determined by the choices we make.

Claim #1: We've been here before, and it turned out fine. Well no, it didn't. First Ind Rev, C18 and 19 Britain and US, saw pitiful wages, long hours, terrible living conditions, while the bosses got rich. The Second Ind Rev of the late C19 was marked by rampant coruption, bloody labour clashes and racial injustice, and still low wages. The Third Ind Rev (now) generated huge productivity gains, but 24/7 work culture and stress, and even worse income inequality.

From 1947 to 1987,automation created more jobs than it destroyed. But from 1987 on displacement dramatically exceeded replacement. And the new jobs were more often high skilled work that displaced workers could not access.

Claim #2: AI will make our jobs better by doing the boring bits Our jobs are safer and less gruelling, but paradoxically, workers report higher depression, anxiety and stress levels. AI enables companies to squeeze out the little inefficiencies and slack times that used to give workers a breather.

Claim #3:Humans and AI will collaborate, not compete. Oft cited example of Gary Kasparov, who popularised hybrid chess, where teams of robots and humans competed, and outplayed pure robot programs. That used to be true, but not since 2014. Now, the AIs are far superior.

Claim #4:Humans will invent new jobs that we can't even dream of today We don't the answer to that. Yes there are many jobs today that didn't exist 50 years ago. But so far, we aren't creating enough new jobs to mop up the displaced workers.

One of AlBaba's bits is MYbank, a lending app whose signature procedure is known as "3-1-0", bc it requires3 minutes to apply for a loan, 1 second for an algorithm to approve it, and 0 humans. It has lent out hundreds of billions of dollars, and thanks to consumer data it collects via AliBaba, with a default rate below 1%, way below that of trad lenders.

Automation didn't directly kill Kodak. The killer blow was the iPhone, which completely changed consumer behaviour. Instead of printing out photos and sticking them in an album, they found they could upload them to websites. Kodak went from 145,000 workers in 1988 to 5000 today.

Computers are good at static situations where fixed rules apply. They are not good at dynamic situations, such as emergency room trauma, or being a police detective. So people who are cool in a crisis and can handle messy situations and still move forward, are needed.

Humans are social animals, so need people who can create positive social and emotional experiences. Emotional intelligence needed to lead teams, to explain complicated tech concepts to non tech people.

AI is single purpose code - what it knows can't be trasferred to another task. But humans do this all the time - we see a new problem and use informtion we learned doing something completely different to fix it. Many great breakthroughs came by combining insights from two or more fields.

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