February 15, 2016

Half of world’s workforce could be unemployed by 2045 thanks to robots

Half the world's workforce could one day be unemployed, and millions of jobs could be lost to robots in the next 30 years, according to experts at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Since job creation in the US manufacturing sector peaked in the mid-1980s, automated systems have resulted in a decline in employment levels as well as stagnating wages for the middle class. There are already more than 200,000 industrial robots in the country, with rapid increases in the near future having the potential to add human catastrophe to technological advancement.

"We are approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task," said Moshe Vardi, director of the Institute for Information Technology at Rice University in Texas.

"I believe that society needs to confront this question before it is upon us: If machines are capable of doing almost any work humans can do, what will humans do?" he added.

He explained that, while humans will always be needed to perform certain tasks, the impact of automated systems will be felt in all professions, with men and women being equally affected. In 2015, investment in artificial intelligence in the United States was by far the highest ever, and the Pentagon has requested $19 billion for developing intelligent weapons systems.

Bart Selman, professor of computer science at Cornell University, believes that "in the next two or three years, semi-autonomous or autonomous systems will march into our society." Among the major introductions will be self-driving cars and trucks, autonomous drones, and fully automatic trading systems.

A loss of jobs - and even control

Job losses may not be the only problem to arise from advancements in artificial intelligence. Experts also suggested that science fiction's long-predicted rise of the machines could be a reality, as we begin to wonder how long we can keep control of our creations. Before long, robots may be smarter than us, and beyond our command. They may even be beyond our understanding.

"This is the concern because we don't know the rate of growth of machine intelligence, how clever those machines will become," Selman said.

His sentiments echo those of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who in a 2014 BBC interview warned that artificial intelligence would "take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate."

Hawking added that: "Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete, and would be superseded. The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."

Certain scientists have called for the establishment of an ethical framework for the development of artificial intelligence, as well as safeguards for future security. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, last year donated 10 million to addressing such questions, claiming that artificial intelligence was potentially more dangerous than nuclear weapons.

Artificial intelligence that takes decisions about whether or not to deploy nuclear weapons - with authority either granted or not granted by humans - is a concept not beyond the realms of possibility. But in a political environment in which it seems money and memes could get almost anyone elected, would we prefer that AI make rational, calculated decisions?


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