This op-ed wasn't written by AI

A...

Posted: Jan 30, 2018 6:37 AM
Updated: Jan 30, 2018 6:37 AM

Amazon Go, the online retailer's first completely automated store, debuted in Seattle last week. Using a bevy of smart cameras, deep machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, the store makes it possible for shoppers to simply pick up the products they like and go, with their accounts being automatically charged for the products -- completely eliminating the need for cashiers and checkout lines. Though staff members still stock the shelves, they will likely soon be replaced by robots.

This is revolutionary and will likely be how all stores will operate in the near future. Stores won't have to invest in employees -- salaries, training, overtime, health care. Customers will like it, too. No more standing in boring check-out lines, interacting with indifferent staff.

What we are witnessing is surely the future of the retail industry, but there is also a downside that needs our attention. Cashiers and retail workers are two of the most common occupations in the US, employing roughly 8 million people, many of who tend to be younger, white women, making modest yearly incomes in the $20,000-$25,0000 range.

Most of these jobs require little formal education for entry, and so the sector supports many individuals with relatively low skills and education who are likely to find it particularly hard to quickly retool and fit a different employment sector. Most of them will likely find themselves jobless.

Of course, this isn't the only sector that AI will decimate. Driverless trucks are already being tested on major highways. They, too, have many advantages over today's long haulers: they can run 24/7 and never get fatigued; no need for mandatory breaks; no more wasted fuel idling overnight.

Truck drivers account for a third of the cost of this $700 billion industry, and there are over 1 million mostly middle-aged, white male truckers in the US. Their jobs will be rendered obsolete. And these numbers will likely be even higher once driverless cars replace all taxi and local delivery drivers.

Such fears of computing-led obsolescence aren't new. In 1964, less than a few years after IBM had launched the first solid-state mainframe computer, "The Twilight Zone" ran a skit titled "The Brain Center at Whipple's" -- where Mr. Whipple, the owner of a vast manufacturing corporation replaced all his factory workers with a room-sized computing machine.

Mr. Whipple's economic justification for his "X109B14 modified transistorized totally automated machine" could just as well be applied to AI: "It costs 2 cents an hour to run ... it lasts indefinitely ... it gets no wrinkles, no arthritis, no blocked arteries ... two of them replace 114 men who take no coffee breaks, no sick leaves, no vacations with pay." In the show, Whipple's machine quickly replaced everyone from the plant's workers to its foremen to all the secretaries.

The story was prescient and many of its fictionalized fears in time came true: Most of the large manufacturing plants were indeed shut down; secretaries and typists mostly became obsolete; and the jobs that created the American middle-class were all eventually outsourced. Much of this computer-driven automation replaced low-skilled easily routinizable functions.

But AI is different. It utilizes deep-learning algorithms and acquires skills, so it can routinize many complex functions.

Take journalism -- a task that has always been performed by humans. After its purchase of The Washington Post last year, Amazon tested Heliograf, a new AI based writing program that automates report-writing using predefined narrative templates and phrases. From the Olympics to the elections, the software has already auto-published close to 1,000 articles.

And given its ability to churn through virtually any amount of data and spit out endless reports instantaneously, AI newsbots are way better than humans. It's no surprise then that USA Today, Reuters, BuzzFeed and growing numbers of financial organizations are already employing AI for tasks ranging from reporting to data authentication.

In the near future, AI will replace many other such so-called highly skilled professions, from chefs to pilots and surgeons. Going back to school, learning new skills and retooling might not be an option because it would be impossible to learn as quickly, provide the kind the nuance from distilling terabytes of information or outpace AI. And besides, by the human-time it takes to acquire a new skill, AI might have learned to replace it.

If these trends materialize -- and some might not -- we are looking at a seismic shift in the American economy. If the last election was a push back against globalization, imagine what a rage against AI will look like.

The solution, of course, is not to stop the march of progress but to prepare for it with forward thinking investments in education, human capital and public policy. While Washington is busy cleaning up yesterday's self-inflicted mess, this is tomorrow's crisis that requires attention today.

In the end of the Mr. Whipple skit, he, too, was rendered obsolete -- by a robot. Rod Serling's ominous closing message: "Man becomes clever instead of becoming wise; he becomes inventive and not thoughtful; and sometimes, as in the case of Mr. Whipple, he can create himself right out of existence." One hopes that this isn't what AI does to us.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 39589

Reported Deaths: 1523
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin12703789
Ramsey5013230
Dakota247993
Stearns242919
Anoka2293110
Nobles16726
Olmsted116817
Washington116340
Mower9652
Rice8598
Scott7834
Clay59538
Kandiyohi5821
Blue Earth5102
Wright4925
Carver4171
Todd4022
Lyon3272
Sherburne3275
Freeborn2980
Watonwan2400
Steele2391
Benton2213
St. Louis19816
Nicollet17612
Martin1715
Cottonwood1370
Goodhue1328
Winona13115
Le Sueur1101
Pine1100
Crow Wing10912
Chisago1021
Otter Tail1001
McLeod940
Dodge920
Carlton880
Unassigned8738
Polk842
Chippewa791
Isanti760
Waseca710
Douglas660
Murray660
Itasca6512
Pipestone632
Meeker611
Morrison611
Faribault600
Becker570
Jackson550
Sibley552
Pennington520
Brown372
Renville362
Beltrami350
Wabasha350
Mille Lacs342
Rock310
Fillmore300
Yellow Medicine300
Houston280
Swift231
Norman210
Wilkin213
Redwood200
Cass192
Big Stone170
Grant170
Koochiching171
Roseau170
Aitkin150
Kanabec151
Wadena150
Marshall120
Pope120
Lincoln110
Mahnomen101
Clearwater90
Hubbard80
Lake60
Stevens60
Traverse60
Lac qui Parle40
Red Lake40
Kittson20
Cook10
Lake of the Woods00

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 32533

Reported Deaths: 735
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk6827181
Woodbury326444
Black Hawk235558
Buena Vista172411
Johnson13638
Linn132382
Dallas129829
Marshall106319
Scott88310
Story8194
Dubuque77122
Pottawattamie75812
Wapello71231
Crawford6793
Muscatine67544
Sioux4880
Tama47329
Wright3881
Louisa36313
Jasper32917
Plymouth3275
Warren2971
Dickinson2823
Webster2524
Washington2479
Cerro Gordo2011
Hamilton1921
Boone1571
Clay1421
Allamakee1354
Clarke1343
Mahaska11817
Shelby1170
Clinton1151
Poweshiek1078
Carroll1041
Pocahontas1011
Bremer987
Franklin980
Des Moines942
Emmet910
Henry883
Cedar851
Hardin830
Taylor810
Cherokee791
Monona770
Floyd742
Marion740
Benton691
Guthrie694
Jones650
Osceola640
Sac640
Jefferson620
Iowa611
Buchanan601
Butler602
Humboldt571
Calhoun552
Hancock541
Harrison540
Lee542
Delaware531
Fayette520
Monroe517
Madison492
Lyon470
Clayton463
Mills430
Winneshiek430
Davis421
Palo Alto420
Mitchell410
Grundy400
Howard370
Jackson370
Kossuth370
Union360
Lucas314
Winnebago300
Chickasaw290
Greene290
Cass240
Ida230
Appanoose213
Van Buren210
Keokuk201
Page200
Unassigned200
Worth200
Adair170
Audubon161
Ringgold150
Decatur120
Montgomery102
Wayne100
Adams80
Fremont80
Rochester
Clear
67° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 67°
Mason City
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 65°
Albert Lea
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 70°
Austin
Broken Clouds
68° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 68°
Charles City
Broken Clouds
66° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 66°
Storm chance die down as cooler temps move in
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Advice for safely starting school in the fall

Image

Racial Disparities Regarding Food Security

Image

George Floyd's Family Visits Rochester Mural

Image

Sean's 6pm Weather 7/9

Image

Differences between Covid-19 and other illness

Image

Virtual Thursdays Downtown

Image

Tutors needed in Rochester

Image

Discussing evictions with US Sen. Tina Smith

Image

Mask mandate at Mason City city buildings

Image

Preventing Glasses From Fogging Up

Community Events