Tech Companies Should Stop Pretending AI Won’t Destroy Jobs

from MIT Technology Review

No matter what anyone tells you, we’re not ready for the massive societal upheavals on the way.

I took an Uber to an artificial-­intelligence conference at MIT one recent morning, and the driver asked me how long it would take for autonomous vehicles to take away his job. I told him it would happen in about 15 to 20 years. He breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, I’ll be retired by then,” he said.

Good thing we weren’t in China. If a driver there had asked, I would have had to tell him he’d lose his job in about 10 years—maybe 15 if he was lucky.

That might sound surprising, given that the US is, and has been, in the lead in AI research. But China is catching up—if it hasn’t already—and that rivalry, with one nation playing off the other, guarantees that AI is coming.

China will have at least a 50/50 chance of winning the race, and there are several reasons for that.

First, China has a huge army of young people coming into AI. Over the past decade, the number of AI publications by Chinese authors has doubled. Young AI engineers from Face++, a Chinese face-recognition startup, recently won first place in three computer-vision challenges—ahead of teams from Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Carnegie Mellon University.

Second, China has more data than the US—way more. Data is what makes AI go. A very good scientist with a ton of data will beat a super scientist with a modest amount of data. China has the most mobile phones and internet users in the world—triple the number in the United States. But the gap is even bigger than that because of the way people in China use their devices. People there carry no cash. They pay all their utility bills with their phones. They can do all their shopping on their phones. You get off work and open an app to order food. By the time you reach home, the food is right there, hot off the electric motorbike. In China, shared bicycles generate 30 terabytes of sensor data in their 50 million paid rides per day—that’s roughly 300 times the data being generated in the US.

More here.

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63 Responses to Tech Companies Should Stop Pretending AI Won’t Destroy Jobs

  1. Jesse Rodgers March 23, 2018 at 6:17 pm #

    I have never been a fan of this crazy technological advancement that’s been happening in the world today. Now I am not saying that I hate this advancement in technology because I do think that some of these advancements have been amazing and life changing. However, I think that if we are not careful we may just get ahead of ourselves. For me personally I do not think I could trust a machine to do a job that requires more than just knowledge to do. I guess in a way I would consider myself a lot like Will Smith in the movie IRobot. The US and China are most likely going to be the first countries to really let AI pretty much be a part of everything in our lives.
    In the article it says that there are a few different views when it comes to AI being a part of our lives. The article says there are the optimistic ones who think that a combination of AI and humans working together would be better than one or the other. Which for certain jobs may be true but certainly not all jobs. Then there are the ones who think that “we’ll be saved by a universal basic income.” Lastly, there are the people who think there is absolutely nothing wrong with this and that everything will be even better than before. I think these are the people that are in denial. Just for me I think that too much of this AI can be bad. To me there are definitely jobs out there that would definitely be better off with AI doing them rather than us, but then there are jobs that require much more than just knowledge. Some jobs require you to do what is ethically right sometimes and AI probably won’t be able to comprehend that.

  2. Greg Mattessich March 29, 2018 at 12:52 am #

    Out of all technological advancements in the world, AI is certainly one of concern. They are many people that deny it outright, that believe that such advancements aren’t possible, or at least not coming in the near future. I think a lot of people have underestimated what AI can do to the world we live in and how soon it’s coming. AI is already being used to replace marketing positions, and does a much better job than a human marketer can do given all the data it gathers and learns from.

    We must implicitly assume that there is no reason for corporations to not use AI, as they are much faster, efficient, and safer. We can then conclude that when AI becomes better than humans in all aspects, society will become completely automated. What will human beings do in their time? Surely we will need some sort of universal basic income. On top of that, there must be some jobs available, as there needs to be people who are manufacturing and maintaining the AI bots.

    The problem with this is that many people connect their sense of purpose to their job. Many people will face a loss of dignity and feel pointless in their existence. I, personally, don’t see why we can’t all pursue all of our more creative facets, like music and the arts. That’s at least something I would do. A problem I foresee is that I believe humans, especially in the U.S, are inherently lazy. People typically don’t find the motivation to pursue arts if it doesn’t grant them anything besides their own expression. We can also learn other things like language, sports, or philosophy. But if people fail to do that, we can reasonably suspect a society full of couch potatoes when AI takes over.

  3. jaymie nieves March 30, 2018 at 5:24 pm #

    The Advancement of new AI technology is surprising; Machines that can continuously grow and learn sounds like a futuristic dream. When people look at AI I feel they always have a negative stigma to it. This could be due to several movies saying how AI is going to rule the world. There are so many benefits to AI which allows humans to evolve in a new way. The article brings a point how AI technology will destroy jobs for American citizen. I would agree that with the Advancement of AI, some jobs will become obsolete to become more efficient. This is not a new concept when new technology advances. This just means that a need for another job opens up. AI technology is never going to reach a point where there is no human supervision. Human are still needed to supervise and control the environment just in case something goes wrong.
    Even though Companies like Amazon are trying to move in the way of new AI technology. This creates new job in the technology field. These companies may not need cashers or drivers anymore but they would need more technicians and engineers to help run the AI focus business model. Amazon is creating a self-checkout store where you just grab the item you need and everything will just be charged to your phone. The amount of programming need for the AI system to work is tremendous. This new wave of AI technology is shifting job opportunities more toward the technology field rather that the simple blue collar jobs. This means higher education is needed to help advance our current society.
    AI has benefits and negative effects to society. One of the biggest benefits to using machines with some level of artificial intelligence is that they could be utilized to do necessary jobs more efficiently. Machines do not need to take breaks, paychecks or any benefits. While they are quite costly set up, maintain and power, this cost is greatly less than what human employees would have to be paid. One negative to AI technology is their lack of compassion and sympathy. There is no reasoning with AI technology because they only know the information that was inputted into them. Another negative is the information being lost due to machine damages. Hackers, viruses and physical damages can affect AI technology from completing it jobs. Hackers are more relevant especially in today’s world. Overall I say the positives outweigh the negative. The rise of AI technology shifts the job opportunities from small blue collar job to more technology based jobs.

  4. Alyssa Heagy April 6, 2018 at 9:07 pm #

    In the article “Tech companies should stop pretending AI won’t destroy jobs”, by Kai-Fu Lee. He discusses how artificial intelligence is going to dominate the world and take over the job force. When he compares the United States to China and when artificial intelligence will start taking over. I think he is true in saying that China will be faster and better at this. China is already very cheap in making stuff and suppling stuff and a huge reason for this is they have different labor laws. Unless China changed their labor laws and regulations to better help workers in sweatshops or such China will beat us to Artificial Intelligence.
    As far as taking jobs away, I think at first there might be a lack of jobs. As time will go on there will be a new need that only people may do. There always needs and wants to humans and humans create these. Jobs open to fulfil these needs and wants. Recently there was the creation and announcements of Sophia. She has citizenship and talks about the future of artificial intelligence. I think for jobs to be gone completely that will take maybe more than thousands of years because humans have fears as compared to artificial intelligence and there will always be a fear and the will to prevent something like this happening. Jobs are important to the world and are what run the system of money and living. Artificial Intelligence has a very long way to come before it becomes a huge worldwide problem.

  5. Stefan S April 6, 2018 at 10:20 pm #

    Artificial Intelligence is a scary phenomenon that the world is not prepared to accept. However, with every sense of change that occurs in the world, people learn to adapt with it. China is a great example of evolution with technology. Although they have one of the biggest wealth gaps in the world, I believe in the evolution of technology. However, to an extent. I see technology as like a study guide for an exam. It can help you a lot and is more convenient, but it can also cheat you from your learning and cause you to become lazy. Moreover, it can cause you to dependent on it more than your actual knowledge. Technology advancement is very important because it can teach us more about the world that we don’t know and make our lives and jobs easier. Even though people argue and in this article specifically, that it is going to take away many jobs? I believe that it will also sprout many new jobs that are different and demanding. With every new thing we have to learn to adapt and especially with artificial intelligence. More jobs will be demanding in creating this equipment or finding new equipment or even checking up on the equipment. It is a process that the world is shifting to and the US can learn from China and the mistakes they face along the process since they are ahead of us.

  6. Joel Valdez April 6, 2018 at 10:42 pm #

    AI is something that is will indefinitely change the world as we know, and it will happen sooner rather than later. We live in a very sheltered, slower paced country as that compared to China when it comes to innovation. America is celebrated on the blue-collar working men and women who do the tough jobs that not everybody else can do. They are not ready for change. They do not believe in change. They do not believe that a computer can take their job, and do it more efficiently than they can. However, those workers are employed by the same American companies who embrace the capitalistic society that we live in where everything revolves around the almighty dollar. The possibilities are endless for AI, and companies will be salivating with the opportunity to cut costs by implemented AI systems within their work practices.

    Over in China they are pushing the boundaries of superb AI development, way faster than that of the U.S.. As stated in the article, they have a larger population of people, all using their devices in such a way that it is easier to harvest information and technological behavior for AI development. All aspects of a person’s life in China can be completed through their phones or computers, meaning faster services and higher quality information. The laws promote the growth of this industry and the president himself is a strong proponent of China becoming the leading force of AI software in the world. They have planned out a path to success, what they want to achieve, and the deadlines for it. It is almost like the wild west in China where anything goes and the may the best company win. Yet, with such incentives and a bottomless pit of information to analyze, everybody is winning.

    Back to the states, where the idea of AI is not fully understood, nor embraced among the general public. The laws do not favor the development of such technology, and lawmakers do not know what to do with such a blooming industry, rather than make basic laws that will continuously change as if they are trying to figure out what AI even is. However, there are world industry leaders in America such as Tesla and Google who are doing their own world-renowned work to develop high performing AI programs, mainly in vehicles, and specifically in Google’s case, search engines. Yet, with a culture that does not embrace AI like their far east competitors, the growth rate of AI in America seems to be overshadowed by that of China’s. Unfortunately, jobs will be lost due to AI, but it should something that we could plan for, rather than denying or promoting skepticism of it. These companies know it’s true, and they should be open about it. But also, we should be open about it too.

  7. John Mundia April 13, 2018 at 9:24 am #

    AI has begun invading all aspects of our lives. It is apparent that within our generation artificial intelligence will have created a new world. For example, in my particular degree, AI has already taken over and become more prevalent than ever. The accounting firm Deloitte has now automated its audit department, that being a major function of the firm it is amazing that they have completely integrated that into the way the functions works. As an accounting major, I should think about how I am going to use the knowledge that I receive here at Seton Hall to improve my situation in the long run. For many people that may mean adding another major or even another concentration to my degree. That way I could use the combination of those two or more concentrations. I am currently, like many others, to add IT to my own major. By doing so I would have the ability to understand the algorithms that actually have taken over the audit department at Deloitte and others.

    AI has also invaded other sides of our lives. For example, all iPhone user has a virtual assistant for the person. IBM’s Watson is a major player in the AI field for businesses and other institutions. Watson has proved itself in the medical field and in other fields that are necessary for us as a society to function. All this integration with AI reveals that the world is changing and new.

  8. Sapna April 13, 2018 at 3:38 pm #

    I do believe technology is valuable and important to society, and I definitely have my own uses for it, but it does not mean I am a particular fan of this advancement. It is advancing too much and too fast. This article personally reminded me of the advancements in technology in China, the face scans and finger scans to enter simple places, and the public humiliation and instant messages regarding jaywalking and the fines for it. These advancements are definitely helpful but I personally believe that artificial intelligence cannot always cover everything. There will be some areas that would require more than knowledge. If this plan goes through, the United States and China will be the first countries to let artificial intelligence become a daily part of our lives. This article speaks about the pros and cons to artificial intelligence and the place it will take in our lives from now on. While some believe that the combination of humans and artificial intelligence working together is a good idea, some believe that artificial intelligence cannot do everything that humans can. There are also those who believe that there is nothing wrong with the merging of artificial intelligence and humans, and that it is in fact a better idea, and advancements will do good to society. Personally, I don’t agree with the last part of the previous sentence. Technology cannot fix or help everything, there are places where it is helpful, but there are also moments that require much more than simple knowledge. When it comes to morals and values and ethics, artificial intelligence is incapable of doing that. Artificial intelligence only is aware of what we input into it, so basically it’s a spitting image of what we want, it does not have a mind of its own. A major con to artificial intelligence is the possibility of losing information due to hackers. Artificial intelligence is slowly making its way into this world, and I believe that it will be a while before it ‘can’ completely take over, and I think that it is important for us to realize the importance of jobs and how much more humans can do compared to artificial intelligence.

  9. marcello bertuzzelli April 13, 2018 at 8:04 pm #

    For centuries, if not millennia, humanity has concerned itself –in fiction and often in engineering- with the creation of devices meant to mimic human behavior, or to behave in a seemingly intelligent way. AI stands for artificial intelligence, essentially relating to what some might find an easier term to refer to as robots. Over the past decade, AI has become much more prevalent in day-to-day life. However, it began much before this past decade. In the early 1940’s, military efforts of both Germany and the United states were racing to produce electronic computers that could be used in ballistics calculations, or in deciphering coded messages. The excess computing power after the war, coupled with some major advances in the design of the machines provided a fertile ground for exploring some more esoteric ideas for computing. This fertile ground has definitely been utilized.
    Work in AI is making a vast cultural impact on society now, and as we can see, it is almost a race for who will take over the world with AI first. Will it be the Chinese or we? Like John, I too have added Information Technology (or IT) to my studies program here at Seton Hall University because I, like many, used to fear the AI take over and worried that the field in which I am studying will have no need for physical beings. Not only my specific study but all jobs did I fear would lose the need for human interface. That is the goal of AI is it not. I was very against the thought of no more people, but now after studying more and picking up more classes based upon technology, I find myself in the group of symbiotic optimists, who think that AI combined with humans should be better than either one alone. I find that there will always be need for human knowledge and that we do not have to worry about robots taking over the world diabolically just yet.

  10. Maria Perdomo May 31, 2018 at 12:41 pm #

    Reading Kai-Fu Lee’s article on Artificial Intelligence technology, I cannot help but get the “shakes.” Artificial Intelligence is completely set on taking over human jobs. In fact, the process has already begun.
    I recall, not so long ago, seeing news reporting on self-service kiosks at local McDonald’s stores. If you do a Google search on, “McDonald’s self-service machines,” you receive a stream of articles in the result. The search results display articles dating as far back as 2003, to present. The media was buzzing with controversy. Debates centering on the fact that, self-service kiosks enable customers to place orders with no point of human contact. This phenomenon threatens people’s jobs by allowing machines to do employee work (cashiers). On the other hand, self-service kiosks are improving company efficiency, by eliminating any cause of human error (Gao, and Su). On paper, this looks amazing for customers, yet, not so great for employees.
    Artificial Intelligence certainly has started taking over, it’s only a matter of time. The anticipation is all over our television screens. If you switch your TV on, almost instantly, an ad displaying Artificial Intelligence technology appears-new improved computer systems, robotics and, even human-like doll inventions. Viewers are already being prepared by tech-media moguls.
    Although I have to agree with the article on that, “We’re not ready for the massive societal upheavals on the way”-Lee, K. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to get ready. Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be a convincing solution that exists for people who are at risk of losing their jobs to AI. Yes, Artificial Intelligence is cost-effective for companies, but, what effect will decentralization of this working class have on the economy? According to the article, extra money made by Artificial Intelligence will be used to pay off people who lose their jobs. My suspicions tell me, that amount won’t be big enough to compensate years of working experience gathered, as well as time spent acquiring degrees to qualify for jobs, only to be replaced by Artificial Intelligence.
    Reinventing the education system, as Mr. Lee suggests, sounds like a good start. Training people adequately for the current job market is crucial.
    Kai-Fung Lee also addresses an existing competition between the US and China. The US has a lot of business in China so, it’s not surprising that China wants to compete with its economy.
    “China is the largest foreign holder of Treasury debt, with a portfolio estimated at $1, 2 trillion or 8.4 percent of the US gross debt…” (Darno 77). It is foreseeable that the country tries its luck. China has done exceptionally well, growing into an independent technology manufacturer is remarkable. Definitely an interesting change in dynamics.
    Back to Artificial Intelligence technology. Ready or not, the shift from human labor to machinery is inevitable. Companies, nine out of ten times, pick low-cost labor methods that produce maximum level revenue, over anything else. I would advise that we sit tight, draw up various income methods and, prepare to ride out the AI wave. It’s certainly going to be quite a ride.
    Works Cited
    Dorn, James, A. “The Role Of China In The US Debt Crisis” 33 Cato Journal, 2013, page=. Accessed 29 May 2018.
    Gao, Fei, and Xuanming Su. “Omnichannel Service Operations With Online and Offline Self-
    Order Technologies| Management Science”. Pubsonline.Informs.Org, 2018, Accessed 29 May 2018.
    Lee, Kai-Fu. “Tech Companies Should Stop Pretending AI Won’t Destroy Jobs”.
    MIT Technology Review, 2018, Accessed 29 May 2018.

  11. KC June 14, 2018 at 1:21 am #

    Artificial Intelligence is growing in size and scope as a major object to contend with in today’s technology world. With new intelligence coming out every day that is smarter and more “useful” than humans in that they can perform everyday tasks quicker and with more precision, time is running out and we haven’t figured out what in the world we are going to do with it. The race that the article mentioned between countries like China and the U.S. with AI is evident, and I believe it is very dangerous. We already see people being replaced by robots at McDonald’s, with more order accuracy and less waiting times (Johnson). But that doesn’t change the fact that people prefer having a cashier over a kiosk.
    When I was in high school, I got a job at our local car wash. It was an automated wash, meaning the driver simply had to drive their car onto our tracks, and a conveyor belt would take their car through and the brushers, water, soap, and wax would all come out along the way before sending them out the other side with a clean, dry car. It was quick, efficient, cheap, and easy. It only took a few minutes out of people’s day, so we usually had lines into the street all day long with people wanting their cars washed. In addition, it was a great spot for the community. Everyone in our town knew of it, and it was fun to interact with neighbors and friends as they came up to the window to order a car wash. I even remember going to that car wash as a kid with my father, and the cashier would hand us a towel for the interior and a lollipop for me. It was so much fun.
    However, about a year after I began working there, the owners sold it to another company. This new company owned many car washes, but did not understand our community connection. Immediately after buying the car wash, they installed automated kiosks in front of our normal cashiering window. The driver now had to drive up to the gate and go through all of the menus (as well as watch an ADVERTISEMENT) before being let into the car wash, with no human interaction. Unsurprisingly, the customers were very unhappy. Not only was the kiosk difficult to navigate, but it eliminated that human connection that so many people came there for in the first place. There was no life in the car wash anymore. Soon enough, we started to notice the lines dwindling. People were cancelling their memberships and the older customers became frustrated with the new technology and got angry with us. Since I left, that car wash has gone through many subsequent new ownerships. Nothing has really changed, and people don’t really go there anymore.
    So what’s the point of that sob story? Even if technology can somehow make a business run more efficiently, it may not be the best idea for the company’s bottom line. Sure, they could be saving labor costs and expediting the sales process, but it loses its touch. Nobody likes a faceless, lifeless corporation. And with AI infiltrating every industry at every level sometime in the near future, I believe companies are going to see just how much the human connection is really worth. Can a robot, say, perform surgery better than a human surgeon? Maybe, but it’s lacking in everything else. A robot has terrible bedside manner, and research shows that that can be one of the most important factors in determining if a patient gets better (Di Blasi et al. 2001). With increasing technology, we are decreasing our humanity. And when we do that, “efficiency” and “cost” doesn’t matter anymore. We are stripping away our very nature, our desire to be useful, and our desire to connect. The next few years should be interesting to watch, as AI technology rises in prevalence and advances in skill. What will happen to us?

    Di Blasi, Z., et al. Influence of context effects on health outcomes: a
    systematic review. 2001.,
    Accessed 14 June 2018.

    Johnson, Hollis. “We ordered from McDonald’s new kiosks to see if they’re better
    than real cashiers ? and the winner is surprising.” Business Insider, 4
    June 2018,

  12. Gary Dinmore June 15, 2018 at 4:50 pm #

    Artificial intelligence is growing rapidly and has as many skeptics worried about the future of employment. The race of advanced artificial intelligence, capable of taking the place of the majority of jobs currently done by humans, is much like the space race. Each country, mostly Asian states such as China and Japan, and the United States are among the few contestants that have been diving head first into the research and development necessary to endow such a daunting task. The article seems to lean towards the idea that China is out performing America as far as their intelligent machine accomplishments go.
    I strongly disagree with the third labeled statement by the author, Mr. Lee, I do not believe that China has been blatantly duplicating the techniques and functionality of American companies. The approach China and other Asian countries have been taking towards AI and other forms of technology have always been vastly more complex in my opinion. China and Japan more so, has been a powerhouse in robot technology and has had a seamless transition from physical architecture of machines into the mind of a machine. I believe that China has recently had a more intimate relationship with their work on the projects encasing AI and have now gained a signature for their work in the industry. And this is a very good thing, for everyone in the world to be preparing for a technological shift in all sorts of ways, in this way we can be sure to find the best most efficient methods and tools to progress at the most optimal pace necessary for the growth of more than just an industry but a new style of life, and hopefully a positive change.

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