The Sorcerer’s broom

When I talk with people who are not in technological fields, I consistently find a sense of alarm around the topic of A.I. and jobs. There seems to be a feeling that A.I. will get rid of millions of jobs, causing massive unemployment.

But at least in its current state, A.I. is still incapable of human judgement. It is the information technology equivalent of the broom in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Because of this, my view is more hopeful. Like many technological advances, A.I. will remove a lot of boring drudge-work, but will also create opportunities for employment at a higher level.

I do understand the fear. When movies first emerged, there was much worry that actors would never again get work. A performance would be filmed once and that would be it. But something quite different happened.

Because so many more people could see an actor’s performance, movies (and then television) brought an economy of scale that created a lot more paying work for actors. In addition, entirely new classes of employment appeared, including camera operator, grip, director of photography, editor, gaffer, cinematographer and boom operator, to name a few.

Which strongly suggests that the use of A.I. will result in entirely new categories of employment. We don’t know yet what all of those categories will be, but we shouldn’t be surprised when they become an important part of our economy, and a rich source of employment.

One thought on “The Sorcerer’s broom”

  1. I recently watched a recording of Ray Kurzweil expressing similar optimism. He pointed out that 100 years ago, 80% of Americans worked in agriculture, and now it’s something like 2%.

    But that transition took place across several generations. Since then, the rate of change has continued to increase. AI and other technologies seem poised to completely disrupt many areas of human endeavor. That itself doesn’t scare me. As you point out, new possibilities will emerge.

    My concern is whether these looming disruptions will happen so quickly that society will struggle to adapt. Humans take time to train for new careers, legal frameworks evolve slowly, safety nets may not be large enough.

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