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Hemphill: Our future with artificial intelligence

The James Martin 21st Century School at the University of Oxford in Oxford, England, founded in 2005, is more commonly known as the Oxford Martin School.

This school’s most recent study, Impacts of Future Technology, addresses what has been featured in my blog for several years — the coming loss of jobs to technology. (O.K., John Maynard Keynes, writing in the 1930s, warned of “technological unemployment” but the predicted wave is much closer.) This subject may seem obvious, but the acceleration is so great that many people in different job categories are whistling by the graveyard.

Allen Hemphill

Last year I remarked that even the middle-class in ancient Greece seldom worked — they gathered at the Forum and discussed the meaning of life, while slaves did the work.

The new “slaves” will be robots.

We have seen the tip of the iceberg with the loss of many bank teller and travel agent positions, not with the advent of robots but autonomous robots. Know anyone working in a stenography pool?

Autonomous automobiles have greatly advanced from the DARPA autonomous car challenge I witnessed in 2009 in the Victorville desert. (The Stanford entry won, and earned $2 million, but it was not too impressive.) Even with the quality of entries, ranging from General Motors to OKOSHTrucks, no entry approached the fleet of Google cars roaming the world today without a driver.

The only reason we do not see many such driverless vehicles on the road today is public acceptance. Various aspects of autonomous cars are slowly being introduced in order to groom the populace to fully autonomous cars, which could be introduced today if they would sell.

Throughout the 20th Century, automation and technology increased jobs, and with that increase, average income. So, why do we now think that trend will change? The answer is AI, Artificial Intelligence, and the ability of computer programs to design still more sophisticated programs, and robots to design and build still smarter, more sophisticated robots…which in turn…

The Oxford Martin study tries to look at the future to warn current workers, “Who’s Next?” Well, next are cab drivers, accountants, lab technicians, loan officers, real estate agents, and a host of other currently well-paid middle-class professionals. The profusion of drone technology means airline pilots are an endangered species, particularly if, as seems likely, they are prone to crash planes and take hundreds with them.

The current unemployment rate as featured on the evening news masks the actual unemployment rate. Millions upon millions have given up looking for employment, and while some of that can be attributed to economic policy, some, and an increasing amount, will invariably be because of ever-increasing Artificial Intelligence.

This is more than an economic problem. It is a political problem during the transition. Paying people not to work will cause resentment among those required to subsidize them. Some with lots of time on their hands will read or attend concerts, while others make mischief.

When I wrote the first Navy AI program in 1968, and taught the subject at a local university into this century, I had no clue that AI would come to this.


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