Discussions continue unabated about the role of humans and machines in the economy — today and in the future. Andrew McAfee, co-director of the MIT IDE recently appeared on two TV broadcasts to offer his expert views as co-author of The Second Machine Age. On the Charlie Rose Show, where he was interviewed by Ian Bremmer, McAfee said that technology is getting both cheaper and better causing some work to be done by robotic devices. Two tectonic trends– globalization and tech progress– are conspiring to impact workers and disrupt the economy, but AI will have the biggest impact moving forward, he said, and much of that impact will be positive.
“The coming of the machines is good news for us as a society,” according to McAfee. We benefit in areas such as entertainment, health and generally in having more goods and services at lower prices. Of course, workers are being challenged, particularly, those doing routine work, on assembly lines or as payroll clerks, for instance. Going forward, automation will expand to medical diagnosis, legal research and more detailed work. At the very high end, however, where physical, emotional and analytical skills are precise and demanding, McAfee doesn’t expect workers to be widely replaced in this generation.
He is also optimistic because of increased global access to knowledge and communications among those in poverty who were previously cut off. “We see incomes increasing and technology helping healthcare for those at bottom.” Companies that figure out best ways to use AI, machine learning and deep learning, will transform many sectors of the economy—from financial services to health care to logistics. Though there is some resistance, the U.S. is in a strong position to lead the way into more research, development and innovation of human-machine interaction. On MSNBC June 1, McAfee was interviewed about whether he’s worried about robots overtaking human tasks and activities. Again, he emphasized the societal benefits of AI as an intelligent assistant at work and at home. Watch the full interview here.
And be sure to read the latest article by Andy McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson in Foreign Affairs magazine, Human Work in the Robotic Future.