Artificial intelligence could leave more than half of the world unemployed within 30 years, according to one expert.
Current technologies already have the potential to automate a surprisingly large percentage of most tasks performed by human workers today, and advances in the field could have devastating effects on occupations across the board.
Rice University computer scientist Moshe Vardi believes that we are rapidly approaching a point where machines, and artificial intelligence, will be able to perform virtually any task just as well as, or even better than, a human.
According to a press release available from Phys.org, Vardi has postulated that, within 30 years, advances in artificial intelligence could leave more than 50 percent of the world unemployed.
“We are approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task,” Vardi said via the press release. “I believe that society needs to confront this question before it is upon us: If machines are capable of doing almost any work humans can do, what will humans do?”
Vardi is expected to address the potential impact of artificial intelligence on society in a Sunday morning talk at a February 13 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) event in Washington, D.C.
The idea of humans being replaced by machines isn’t new, and industrial robots have been around for decades. Manufacturing jobs that require precise work have remained in human hands thus far, but Wired reports that manufacturers like Samsung are already in the process of building high-precision robots that are capable of doing work normally left to dexterous human fingers.
According to The Guardian, a surprisingly large percentage of tasks performed by human workers could actually be automated right now with technology that already exists, just like Samsung’s upcoming high-precision industrial robots.
In fact, as much as 45 percent of the tasks performed by human workers today could be automated with current technologies.
Last year, consultancy firm McKinsey & Company published a report suggesting that the 45 percent of tasks that could currently be automated represent about $2 trillion in annual wages in the United States alone, and both blue and white collar jobs could eventually be on the chopping block.
McKinsey’s report found that, contrary to popular belief, both high and low wage jobs include tasks that could be automated with current technologies. For instance, activites like analyzing reports and preparing staff assignments that take up 20 percent of a typical CEO’s working time could be automated.
The hardest tasks to automate with current technologies involve creativity and sensing the emotions of others. Jobs that require these uniquely human capabilities would appear to be safe, at least until true artificial intelligence arrives, but they are also few and far between.
According to the McKinsey report, only 4 percent of all work activities and tasks in the United States require creativity even at a “median human level of performance.” Tasks that require a worker to sense and react to emotions “at a median level of human performance” are in more demand, but still only account for about 29 percent of work activities in the United States.
Although 45 percent of all tasks performed by workers in the United States could be automated today, that doesn’t mean 45 percent of jobs could be performed by machines. Some jobs, like CEOs, could have about 20 percent of their duties automated, while file clerks could have about 80 percent of their duties automated, and a human worker would still have to pick up the slack.
Within 30 years, Moshe Vardi expects artificial intelligence to step in and replace the human part of that equation. If he is correct, basic tasks could be automated through technology that already exists today, and overseen by artificial intelligences capable of performing up to, or even beyond, the median level of human performance.
Jobs that require creativity, empathy, and other difficult to reproduce traits could be safe, but Vardi still expects half of the entire population of the world to be out of a job. How humanity will deal with that, he argues, is a topic that must be addressed now, well in advance of any future rise of the machines.
Artificial intelligence could leave half the population of the world destitute and unemployable, while the owners of the machines reap the rewards of what would essentially be free slave labor. However, Vardi questions whether the alternative, where everyone might benefit from an artificially intelligent workforce, would be a good thing.
“I do not find this a promising future, as I do not find the prospect of leisure-only life appealing. I believe that work is essential to human well-being,” Vardi said, via the Rice University press release. “Humanity is about to face perhaps its greatest challenge ever, which is finding meaning in life after the end of ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.’ We need to rise to the occasion and meet this challenge before human labor becomes obsolete.”
Do you think that artificial intelligence could really create a world where people are free to lead lives of leisure, or would a world where half of the population is rendered unemployable by artificial intelligence create a permanent underclass and only a small minority reap the rewards?
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