Global Ethics Corner: Jobs: Computers versus Humans

Dec 23, 2011

Could the slow job growth rate of the Great Recession be attributed to new technologies replacing human labor and intelligence? Is artificial intelligence likely or desirable in a post-industrial society?

Perhaps slow job growth has roots in more than the Great Recession.

Perhaps the roots are also in new technologies. What if not only the production but also the insight, creative spark, and design of goods, happen without human input?

Markoff in The New York Times notes, "… that basic tension between artificial intelligence and intelligence augmentation—A.I and I.A.—has been at the heart of the progress in computing science as the field has produced a series of ever more powerful technologies that are transforming the world."

"Traditionally, economists have argued that while new forms of automation may displace jobs in the short run, over longer periods of time economic growth and job creation have continued to outpace any job-killing technologies."

Artificial intelligence may be different. A.I. emphasizes linguistic, problem solving, and creative components which can actually replace rather than augment people's job skills.

Markoff cites contrasting examples from online news systems developed by Yahoo and Google. In selecting content, Yahoo's uses "a 21st-century version of a traditional newspaper wire editor" augmented by sophisticated computers while Google uses a sophisticated "software algorithm:" person vs. computer. We see the same dynamic on military battlefields.

What do you think? Are computers likely to increase human productivity and enhance the quality of life? Is technological joblessness a likely condition for future generations in post-industrial societies? Which is more likely or desirable: intelligence augmentation (I.A.) or artificial intelligence (A.I.)?

By William Vocke

For more information see:

John Markoff, "A Fight to Win the Future: Computers vs. Humans," The New York Times, February 15, 2011, pp. D1-2.

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Steve Jurvetson

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