popsciWhile I was waiting in line to check out at the store, I thumbed through a special edition of Popular Science on the magazine rack. Popular Science – The New Artificial Intelligence.

The New York Times Magazine recently published a feature, The Great A.I. Awakening, about how Google used artificial intelligence to transform Google Translate, one of its more popular services — and how machine learning is poised to reinvent computing itself.


Last year there was even a best selling book on the subject by Martin Ford, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future: “As technology continues to accelerate and machines begin taking care of themselves, fewer people will be necessary. Artificial intelligence is already well on its way to making ‘good jobs’ obsolete…”

More and more I see news articles appearing on this topic, but our political leaders appear to be entirely unaware, uninformed and unconcerned about rapid advances in technology replacing human labor. They do not even talk about this subject, let alone offer any plans or policies to deal with the economic disruption caused by rapidly advancing technology.

Instead, we just held an election in which Appalachian coal country voted for Donald Trump because he told them that he could bring back 20th Century coal mining jobs that disappeared years ago and are never coming back. It was a cruel hoax for which all of us will now have to suffer the consequences.

The Washington Post recently reported, Artificial intelligence could cost millions of jobs. The White House says we need more of it.

The growing popularity of artificial intelligence technology will likely lead to millions of lost jobs, especially among less-educated workers, and could exacerbate the economic divide between socioeconomic classes in the United States, according to a newly released White House report.

But that same technology is also essential to improving the country’s productivity growth, a key measure of how efficiently the economy produces goods. That could ultimately lead to higher average wages and fewer work hours. For that reason, the report concludes, our economy actually needs more artificial intelligence, not less.

To reconcile the benefits of the technology with its expected toll, the report states that the federal government should expand access to education in technical fields and increase the scope of unemployment benefits. Those policy recommendations, which the Obama administration has made in the past, could head off some of those job losses and support those who find themselves out of work due to the coming economic shift, according to the report.

The White House report comes exactly one month before President-elect Donald Trump is sworn into office, meaning Obama will need his successor to execute on the policy recommendations. That seems unlikely to happen, especially as far as unemployment protections are concerned. Congressional Republicans already aim to curtail some existing entitlement programs to reduce government spending.

Rolling back Social Security protections for out-of-work families “would potentially be more risky at a time when you have these types of changes in the economy that we’re documenting in this report,” Jason Furman, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said in a call with reporters.

Research conducted in recent years varies widely on how many jobs will be displaced due to artificial intelligence, according to the report. A 2016 study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that 9 percent of jobs would be completely displaced in the next two decades. Many more jobs will be transformed, if not eliminated. Two academics from Oxford University, however, put that number at 47 percent in a study conducted in 2013.

The staggering difference illustrates how much the impact of artificial intelligence remains speculative. While certain industries, such as transportation and agriculture, appear to be embracing the technology with relative haste, others are likely to face a slower period of adoption.

“If these estimates of threatened jobs translate into job displacement, millions of Americans will have their livelihoods significantly altered and potentially face considerable economic challenges in the short- and medium-term,” the White House report states.

Those same studies were consistent, however, when it came to the population that would feel the economic brunt of artificial intelligence. The workers earning less than $20 per hour and without a high school diploma would be most likely to see their jobs automated away. The projections improved if workers earned higher wages or obtained higher levels of education.

Jobs that involve a high degree of creativity, analytical thinking or interpersonal communication are considered most secure.

The report also highlights potential advantages of the technology. It could lead to greater labor productivity, meaning workers have to work fewer hours to produce the same amount. That could lead to more leisure time and a higher quality of life, the report notes.

“As we look at AI, our biggest economic concern is that we won’t have enough of it, that we won’t have enough productivity growth,” Furman said. “Anything we can do to have more AI will lead to more productivity growth.”

To that end, the report calls for further investment in artificial intelligence research and development. Specifically, the White House sees the technology’s applications in cyber defense and fraud detection as particularly promising.

The New York Times reports today, The Long-Term Jobs Killer Is Not China. It’s Automation.

The first job that Sherry Johnson, 56, lost to automation was at the local newspaper in Marietta, Ga., where she fed paper into the printing machines and laid out pages. Later, she watched machines learn to do her jobs on a factory floor making breathing machines, and in inventory and filing.

“It actually kind of ticked me off because it’s like, How are we supposed to make a living?” she said. She took a computer class at Goodwill, but it was too little too late. “The 20- and 30-year-olds are more up to date on that stuff than we are because we didn’t have that when we were growing up,” said Ms. Johnson, who is now on disability and lives in a housing project in Jefferson City, Tenn.

Donald J. Trump told workers like Ms. Johnson that he would bring back their jobs by clamping down on trade, offshoring and immigration. But economists say the bigger threat to their jobs has been something else: automation.

“Over the long haul, clearly automation’s been much more important — it’s not even close,” said Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard who studies labor and technological change.

No candidate talked much about automation on the campaign trail. Technology is not as convenient a villain as China or Mexico, there is no clear way to stop it, and many of the technology companies are in the United States and benefit the country in many ways.

Mr. Trump told a group of tech company leaders last Wednesday: “We want you to keep going with the incredible innovation. Anything we can do to help this go along, we’re going to be there for you.”

Andrew F. Puzder, Mr. Trump’s pick for labor secretary and chief executive of CKE Restaurants, extolled the virtues of robot employees over the human kind in an interview with Business Insider in March. “They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case,” he said.

Related: “It’s a scenario often invoked by critics of minimum wage increases: Fast-food workers replaced with burger-flipping robots.” Burger robots: Labor nod revives image but reality’s complex. “Despite local minimum wages hikes, the number of fast-food jobs has climbed, and many employers say they’ve had difficulty retaining workers as the economy improves.”

Globalization is clearly responsible for some of the job losses, particularly trade with China during the 2000s, which led to the rapid loss of 2 million to 2.4 million net jobs, according to research by economists including Daron Acemoglu and David Autor of M.I.T.

People who work in parts of the country most affected by imports generally have greater unemployment and reduced income for the rest of their lives, Mr. Autor found in a paper published in January. Still, over time, automation has had a far bigger effect than globalization, and would have eventually eliminated those jobs anyway, he said in an interview. “Some of it is globalization, but a lot of it is we require many fewer workers to do the same amount of work,” he said. “Workers are basically supervisors of machines.”

When Greg Hayes, the chief executive of United Technologies, agreed to invest $16 million in one of its Carrier factories as part of a Trump deal to keep some jobs in Indiana instead of moving them to Mexico, he said the money would go toward automation.

“What that ultimately means is there will be fewer jobs,” he said on CNBC.

* * *

Over time, automation has generally had a happy ending: As it has displaced jobs, it has created new ones. But some experts are beginning to worry that this time could be different. Even as the economy has improved, jobs and wages for a large segment of workers — particularly men without college degrees doing manual labor — have not recovered.

Even in the best case, automation leaves the first generation of workers it displaces in a lurch because they usually don’t have the skills to do new and more complex tasks, Mr. Acemoglu found in a paper published in May.

Robert Stilwell, 35, of Evansville, Ind., is one of them. He did not graduate from high school and worked in factories building parts for tools and cars, wrapping them up and loading them onto trucks. After he was laid off, he got a job as a convenience store cashier, which pays a lot less.

“I used to have a really good job, and I liked the people I worked with — until it got overtaken by a machine, and then I was let go,” he said.

Dennis Kriebel’s last job was as a supervisor at an aluminum extrusion factory, where he had spent a decade punching out parts for cars and tractors. Then, about five years ago, he lost it to a robot.

“Everything we did, you could program a robot to do it,” said Mr. Kriebel, who is 55 and lives in Youngstown, Ohio, the town about which Bruce Springsteen sang, “Seven hundred tons of metal a day/Now sir you tell me the world’s changed.”

Since then, Mr. Kriebel has barely been scraping by doing odd jobs. Many of the new jobs at factories require technical skills, but he doesn’t own a computer and doesn’t want to.

Labor economists say there are ways to ease the transition for workers whose jobs have been displaced by robots. They include retraining programs, stronger unions, more public-sector jobs, a higher minimum wage, a bigger earned-income tax credit and, for the next generation of workers, more college degrees. The White House on Tuesday released a report on automation and the economy that called for better education from early childhood through adult job transitions and for updating the social safety net with tools like wage insurance. Few are policies that Mr. Trump has said he will pursue.

“Just allowing the private market to automate without any support is a recipe for blaming immigrants and trade and other things, even when it’s the long impact of technology,” said Mr. Katz, who was the Labor Department’s chief economist under President Clinton.

The changes are not just affecting manual labor: Computers are rapidly learning to do some white-collar and service-sector work, too. Existing technology could automate 45 percent of activities people are paid to do, according to a July report by McKinsey. Work that requires creativity, management of people or caregiving is least at risk.

Yes, but those caregivers are among the lowest paid workers, and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce is currently in court trying to block Arizona’s minimum wage increase (Prop. 206) on behalf of the nonprofit agencies that employ these caregivers. The nonprofits say that unless the state of Arizona increases its reimbursement rate to cover the cost of the new minimum wage increase, they may not be able to stay in business, which means that low paid caregivers are at risk of losing their jobs, only because of the ideology of  our Tea-Publican controlled Arizona legislature.