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When artificial intelligence comes for white collar jobs, will people revolt?

Dec 11, 2017

The Next Idea

Advances in computer technology are one of many factors that have led to the decline of certain types of jobs. To some extent, technology has always played a role in changing how people work and live: think of the internal combustion engine or factory mechanization.

But today’s guest on The Next Idea wonders if advances in artificial intelligence could be a tipping point into societal unrest, even revolt, because of loss of jobs.

Kentaro Toyama, the W.K. Kellogg Associate Professor of Community Information at the University of Michigan School of Information, joined The Next Idea to discuss the future of artificial intelligence and his recent article in The Conversation.

Listen below for the entire conversation.

On artificial intelligence replacing another tier of jobs

Toyama warns that artificial intelligence, which has already replaced a large number of jobs in our economy, will begin to replace highly-skilled white collar jobs, those that we typically think of as requiring a good education. Legal work, financial analysis, and even journalism are at risk, Toyama said.

“I certainly have students whose jobs, you know, ten, twenty years out might no longer exist,” he said.

On whether machines can truly replace humans

The limits of a computer’s abilities have been not only a technical debate for some time, but also a philosophical one. There are of course some limits on what computers can do, like feel emotion, but “unless you believe in supernatural forces even within human beings… there’s no reason why anything that you can think couldn’t ultimately be done by a computer,” Toyama said.

On why white-collar workers might successfully lobby politicians

Though automation displacement has been occurring for some time, it has mostly affected blue-collar workers, who are usually far removed from the politicians who could pass legislation to regulate automation. However, white-collar workers are often closely tied to politicians, whether through family, friendships, or contributions.

“Our politicians have brothers and sisters and daughters and sons who are from these ranks,” said Toyama.

The Next Idea is Michigan Radio’s project devoted to new innovations and ideas that will change our state.

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