A robot revolution could be coming ahead, with a new report warning that the rise of artificial intelligence could lead to mass unemployment as machines take over jobs once held by blue collar workers.
The nearly 300-page report came from Bank of America Merrill Lynch and warned that as artificial intelligence becomes more widespread and begins to be used across industries, it could lead to a number of jobs being wiped out. The report predicted that up to 47 percent of workers in the United States could have their jobs replaced by robots, largely in blue collar jobs but also in some white collar professions, as well, the Guardian noted.
Some have noted that these warnings were used in the past. The rise of computers in the 1970s and 80s would lead to mass unemployment, many warned, but this never came to pass.
Others think the so-called robot revolution could be different.
“The poster child for automation is agriculture,” says Calum Chace, author of Surviving AI and the novel Pandora’s Brain. “In 1900, 40 [percent] of the US labor force worked in agriculture. By 1960, the figure was a few per cent. And yet people had jobs; the nature of the jobs had changed.”
“But then again, there were 21 million horses in the US in 1900. By 1960, there were just three million. The difference was that humans have cognitive skills – we could learn to do new things. But that might not always be the case as machines get smarter and smarter.”
Artificial intelligence is already being used to replace some tasks, even in typically white collar professions. The Associated Press used an automated system to write earnings reports from thousands of American companies, work that was once done by journalists.
Forms of artificial intelligence have also been implemented in technology, with advancements like self-driving cars and Apple’s personal assistant, Siri.
Toyota has also added artificial intelligence research and development to its business objectives, investing $1 billion for a five-year effort to develop AI at its Toyota Research Institute in Silicon Valley.
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The rise of artificial intelligence is already a fear of many. Earlier this year, a group of protesters spoke out against the rise of AI outside the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas.
There are warnings that artificial intelligence could affect more than just employment. Stephen Hawking, the world renowned physicist, has warned that artificial intelligence could one day surpass human intelligence, and in doing so would threaten all of human civilization. Elon Musk, who has been a leader in developing electric cars and private space flight, has voiced the same concerns, Time noted.
But others say there are safe ways to implement artificial intelligence. Futurist Ray Kurzweil believes that a careful approach could be a benefit to society.
“There are strategies we can deploy to keep emerging technologies like AI safe. Consider biotechnology, which is perhaps a couple of decades ahead of AI. A meeting called the Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA was organized in 1975 to assess its potential dangers and devise a strategy to keep the field safe.
“The resulting guidelines, which have been revised by the industry since then, have worked very well: there have been no significant problems, accidental or intentional, for the past 39 years. We are now seeing major advances in medical treatments reaching clinical practice and thus far none of the anticipated problems.”
There are important fiscal considerations as artificial intelligence creeps into more areas of life, the report warned. It noted that as lower wage workers are pushed out of the workforce and replaced by robots, it will push wealth even further to the top and require careful attention to this wealth distribution, or else risk the kind of uprisings that took place around the time of the industrial revolution.
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