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SINCE THE ADVENT of computers and robots, an argument has raged between pessimists who see those machines as putting human laborers out of work, and optimists who predict that new, undreamed-of jobs will be created for people to do in each new technological landscape.

Into the twenty-first century, the optimists have been right. But this time it really is different.

In 2011, IBM’s Watson supercomputer defeated the best human players in the world on the game-show Jeopardy. If that simple fact didn’t convince you that robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will replace humans in the majority of First World jobs within a decade or two ... and that whatever new job-categories may come into existence will be beyond the intellectual capabilities of between half and three-quarters of the population, even in the developed world ... perhaps the following information will help.

  1. AI system performs better than 75 percent of American adults on standard visual intelligence test:

    The researchers tested the AI system on Raven’s Progressive Matrices, a nonverbal standardized test that measures abstract reasoning. All of the test’s problems consist of a matrix with one image missing. The test taker is given six to eight choices for completing the matrix.
    “The problems that are hard for people are also hard for the model, providing additional evidence that its operation is capturing some important properties of human cognition”....
    “The Raven’s test is the best existing predictor of what psychologists call ‘fluid intelligence,’ or the general ability to think abstractly, reason, identify patterns, solve problems, and discern relationships....”

    Those matrices are a significant component of contemporary IQ tests. Seventy-fifth percentile on such tests corresponds to an IQ around 110—roughly the intelligence required to be a competent accountant.

  2. A deep learning algorithm outperforms some board-certified dermatologists in diagnosis of skin cancer:

    Deep learning has been touted for its potential to enhance the diagnosis of diseases, and now a team of researchers at Stanford has developed a deep-learning algorithm that may make this vision a reality for skin cancer.
    The researchers ... reported in the January 25 issue of Nature that their deep convolutional neural network (CNN) algorithm performed as well or better than 21 board-certified dermatologists at diagnosing skin cancer.
  3. Carnegie Mellon AI beats top poker pros:

    Libratus, an AI developed by Carnegie Mellon University, has defeated four of the world’s best professional poker players in a marathon 120,000 hands of Heads-up, No-Limit Texas Hold’em poker played over 20 days ... joining Deep Blue (for chess), Watson, and Alpha Go as major milestones in AI....
    “The best AI’s ability to do strategic reasoning with imperfect information has now surpassed that of the best humans.... This is the last frontier, at least in the foreseeable horizon, in game-solving in AI.”
    This new AI milestone has implications for any realm in which information is incomplete and opponents sow misinformation.... Business negotiation, military strategy, cybersecurity, and medical treatment planning could all benefit from automated decision-making using a Libratus-like AI.
    “The computer can’t win at poker if it can’t bluff.... Developing an AI that can do that successfully is a tremendous step forward scientifically and has numerous applications. Imagine that your smartphone will someday be able to negotiate the best price on a new car for you. That’s just the beginning.”
  4. Intrusion of robots into journalism:

    This study confirmed that the public failed to discern an algorithm-written article from a human journalist’s article and gave undifferentiated evaluation on quality without author notification context. It proved that although algorithm-written articles are in their initial stages in Korea, the quality of algorithm-written articles is quite comparable to that of human journalists.
  5. Artificial intelligence is getting more powerful, and it’s about to be everywhere:

    [E]ven if you’ve dismissed AI technology in the past, there are two big reasons to start taking it seriously. First, the software really is getting better at a remarkable pace. Problems that artificial intelligence researchers struggled with for decades are suddenly getting solved.
    “Our software is going to get superpowers” thanks to AI, says Frank Chen, a partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Computer programs will be able to do things that “we thought were human-only activities: recognizing what’s in a picture, telling when someone’s going to get mad, summarizing documents.”
    But more importantly, Chen says, AI capabilities are about to be everywhere. Until recently, big companies focused on adding AI capabilities to their own products—think about your smartphone transcribing your voice and Facebook identifying the faces in your photos. But now big companies are starting to open up their powerful AI capabilities to third-party developers.
    And often, this is the moment when a new technology has a really big impact. The iPhone didn’t really become truly revolutionary until Apple created the app store, allowing third parties to create apps like Uber and Instagram. Soon every company and every ambitious kid in a dorm room is going to have access to the same powerful AI tools as the world’s leading technology companies....
    [I]n their rush to win the cloud computing war, these technology giants [i.e., Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc.] are making more and more powerful AI capabilities available to anyone who wants to use them. Which means we’re about to see an explosion of experimentation with AI capabilities....
    Google’s promise is that creating [a] sophisticated AI experience will soon be as simple as building a website or a smartphone app is today.
  6. From Robots will steal your job: How AI could increase unemployment and inequality:

    [Thirty-five percent] of jobs in the UK are at risk of being replaced by automation, 47% of U.S. jobs are at risk, and across the OECD as a whole an average of 57% of jobs are at risk. In China, the risk of automation is as high as 77%.
    Most of the jobs at risk are low-skilled service jobs like call centres or in manufacturing industries. But increasingly skilled jobs are at risk of being replaced. The next big thing in financial technology at the moment is “roboadvice”—algorithms that can recommend savings and investment products to someone in the same way a financial advisor would....
    “[U]nlike innovation in the past, the benefits of technological change are not being widely shared—real median wages have fallen behind growth in productivity and inequality has increased.... [I]n the EU nearly half of the new job opportunities will require highly skilled workers. Today’s technology sectors have not provided the same opportunities, particularly for less educated workers, as the industries that preceded them”....
    Not only is technology set to destroy low-skilled jobs, it will replace them with high-skilled jobs, meaning the biggest burden is on the hardest hit. The onus will be on low-earning, under-educated people to retrain for high-skilled technical jobs—a big ask both financially and politically....
    “This downward trend in new job creation in new technology industries is particularly evident starting in the Computer Revolution of the 1980s. For example, a study by Jeffery Lin suggests that while about 8.2% of the U.S. workforce shifted into new jobs during the 1980s which were associated with new technologies; during the 1990s this figured declined to 4.4%. Estimates by Thor Berger and Carl Benedikt Frey further suggest that less than 0.5% of the U.S. workforce shifted into technology industries that emerged throughout the 2000s, including new industries such as online auctions, video and audio streaming, and web design.”
  7. Robots to replace 1 in 3 UK jobs over next 20 years, warns IPPR:

    More than 10m jobs in the UK—a third of the total—are thought to be at risk from automation within the next two decades and the IPPR [Institute for Public Policy Research] said the scale of the challenge required urgent action....
    The IPPR research said that in four sectors alone—retail, hospitality, transport and manufacturing—5m jobs were at risk....
    “In wholesale and retail for example, there are over two and a half million jobs with a high potential to be automated, and three in four workers do not have a degree-level qualification and may lack adaptability,” the report said.

    “Lacking adaptability” = not possessing the cognitive abilities to do higher-skilled jobs regardless of how much time they may spend retraining, or how willing they may be to relocate.

  8. Hand delivered: will Ocado’s robot soon be picking your shopping?:

    Ocado is testing a robot hand that can pick and pack fruit and vegetables in a move that could reduce its reliance on thousands of warehouse workers....
    Automated warehouses have been in use for decades and Ocado, which delivers groceries for Waitrose and Morrisons, already uses a variety of robots in its operations. Those working in its warehouses are guided by technology to ensure they work efficiently. But the variation in shape and fragile nature of fruit and vegetables mean that historically they have been susceptible to damage or bruising when handled by robots....
    Ocado is also working on creating its own robot hand using machine learning and 3D “computer vision” sensors to ensure it can grab a range of tricky objects including eggs, glass bottles and household cleaning products, such as bleach, that could be hazardous if spilled. It is also trying to train the hands to recognize when fruit is ripe or moldy....
    “We are not only creating more operational jobs but creating a lot more jobs for software and hardware engineers. We are inventing and patenting things which is good news. We are creating innovations in the UK and we would argue we are a market leader in the world.”
  9. Robot takeover begins? Corporate giant Capita replaces staff with automatons:

    A study published by Oxford University and consultancy firm Deloitte in October predicted there is a 77 percent probability Britain will lose 1.3 million “repetitive and predictable” administrative and operative jobs within 15 years.
    More than 850,000 public sector jobs—including teachers, social workers and even police officers—could also be replaced by computer programs.
  10. Robots will take over most jobs within 30 years, experts warn:

    Robots will have taken over most jobs within 30 years leaving humanity facing its “biggest challenge ever” to find meaning in life when work is no longer necessary, according to experts.
    Professor Moshe Vardi, of Rice University, in the U.S., claims that many middle-class professionals will be outsourced to machines within the next few decades leaving workers with more leisure time than they have ever experienced....
    “Robots are doing more and more jobs that people used to do. Pharmacists, prison guards, boning chicken, bartending, more and more jobs we’re able to mechanize them....
    “What’s different this time is computer scientists are working on building machines that can out compete us in everything we can do. If machines can do all the work or even 50 per cent of the jobs that we used to do, what will people do?”
  11. Robots are stealing far more American jobs than foreign workers, researchers reveal:

    A study at Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research last year found that trade accounted for just 13 percent of America’s lost factory jobs.
    The vast majority of the lost jobs—88 percent—were taken by robots and other homegrown factors that reduce factories’ need for human labor....
    General Motors, for instance, now employs barely a third of the 600,000 workers it had in the 1970s. Yet it churns out more cars and trucks than ever....
    In an interview with Fox Business, former McDonalds USA CEO Ed Rensi argued that the $15/hour minimum wage raise will bring “job loss like you can’t believe.”
    [Compare: “Every $1 increase in minimum wage makes mid-level restaurants 14 percent more likely to fail.”]
    “If you look at the robotic devices that are coming into the restaurant industry—it’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who’s inefficient making $15 an hour bagging French fries,” Rensi said.
    Foxconn, a supplier for Apple and Samsung, has already reduced its human workforce drastically, The South China Morning Post reports.
    One factory has now “reduced employee strength from 110,000 to 50,000, thanks to the introduction of robots,” an official told the Post.
  12. Burger-flipping robot replaces humans on first day at work:

    A burger-flipping robot has just completed its first day on the job at a restaurant in California, replacing humans at the grill....
    The robotic kitchen assistant, which its makers say can be installed in just five minutes, is the brainchild of Miso Robotics.
    “Much like self-driving vehicles, our system continuously learns from its experiences to improve over time,” said David Zito, chief executive officer of Miso Robotics.
    “Though we are starting with the relatively ‘simple’ task of cooking burgers, our proprietary AI software allows our kitchen assistants to be adaptable and therefore can be trained to help with almost any dull, dirty or dangerous task in a commercial kitchen — whether it’s frying chicken, cutting vegetables or final plating”....
    More Flippy robots will be introduced at CaliBurgers next year, with the aim of installing them in 50 of their restaurants worldwide by the end of 2019.
  13. Anyone still imagining that a legislated “living wage” (e.g., $15/hr in the U.S.) for menial work will do anything but expedite the replacement of human laborers by machines should consider the following:

    • Robots sorting system helps Chinese company finish at least 200,000 packages a day in the warehouse: “Orange robots at the company’s sorting stations are able to identify the destination of a package through a code-scan, virtually eliminating sorting mistakes.”

    • Meet SAM, the bricklaying robot. Even if version 1.0 of such a machine still requires supervision, and perhaps can only do the “easy” 90% of a mason’s job (three times faster than a human could!), future versions will be able to do much more complex work, with less human supervision.

  14. And now, fittingly, back to Watson: “In February 2013, IBM announced that Watson software system’s first commercial application would be for utilization management decisions in lung cancer treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City, in conjunction with health insurance company WellPoint. IBM Watson’s former business chief, Manoj Saxena, says that 90% of nurses in the field who use Watson now follow its guidance.”

    From IBM CEO “Watson AI will change everything in Healthcare. Radiologists will lose jobs soon”:

    IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty said, “IBM picked healthcare as the vertical to apply Artificial Intelligence into business and operation. Sixty to 70% of the IBM cloud customers are using Watson AI and intelligence solution to do their specific work. We open our Watson AI API and want everyone to use it.” She also mentioned that radiologists and psychologists will lose their jobs soon, as AI can analyze massive images more accurately than qualified radiologists.
  15. Following Watson’s Jeopardy win, the second-place contestant Ken Jennings wrote: “Just as factory jobs were eliminated in the 20th century by new assembly-line robots, Brad and I were the first knowledge-industry workers put out of work by the new generation of ‘thinking’ machines. ‘Quiz show contestant’ may be the first job made redundant by Watson, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.”

If you still don’t believe that “the robots are coming,” check out the brilliant work done by the engineers at Boston Dynamics:

Mickelodian Surname summarized it well:

Two hundred years ago the new jobs created were ones of the humans operating the machines. The entire point of AI and robotic technology is that humans do not need to operate the machinery. So these jobs will go, but not without replacement—you are right about that—but the replacement jobs will be for other machines....
This is not just scaremongering: Every government worldwide now knows that this level of automation will reduce the base employment by as much as 80% over the next 25 years and it has already begun.
Even if you work in machine learning your job is on the line—and no, we cannot all become artists, actors, singers and dancers, or other human-only valued jobs.
Also can I point out here that arguments over resources to keep the Industrial revolution going led to truly huge wars. I doubt we can really afford another world war.
Next is the obvious: If we are all out of work, then what exactly will these AI-operated business sell to? Consumers? Well, if there’s no money in the consumer base what happens?
Nobody is reasonably saying new jobs will come about that humans can do, that machines cannot. These are not steam engines: they will replace us precisely because they are faster, stronger, brighter and better than a thousand of us combined. The spinning jenny or horse and cart vs. the steam train is a pointless comparison to make. This level of automation totally exceeds the ability of humans to operate or control or work at doing anything.
This new revolution brings with it zero replacement jobs suitable for humans that cannot be done faster, cheaper and better by yet another machine.

The last people to be made redundant by robots/AI will, of course, be the scientists and computer programmers who are creating them.

Or, put more biblically: “The geeks shall inherit the Earth.”

Or at least what’s left of it, after a Guaranteed Basic Income is offered by the nearest liberal government to pacify the masses of unemployed, unemployable, and utterly uncreative proles—once-valuable, latently violent drones who will no longer be able to pretend that they are doing the “real work” in the world; and who, contra Ray Kurzweil’s fantasies, will not spend their endless leisure time (without a thought in their heads) learning to play piano!

In particular, such a GBI would almost certainly be implemented not in place of but rather on top of existing social programs.

As a replacement for such programs and accompanied by a radical downsizing of government, a GBI could have bi-partisan support. But even then, there is no feasible and fair way to transition from today’s Social Security, to a GBI: People who have paid into such programs all their lives cannot now be robbed of their contributions, when they need them the most for healthcare costs.

Thus, in a few decades, we can expect to see elections fought between Party A, which will increase the GBI amount by $1,000 if elected; and Party B, which will increase it by $2,000....

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