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FCW : February 2016
coming from sensors — in combination with lots and lots of sensors, which have gotten so much cheaper” — has improved to the point that “an incredible range of tasks” can now be automated, Kaplan said. “So we can build systems and machines that are able to sense and be aware of their environment in very different ways than before.” And because “humans are actually not very good sensors,” that means millions of jobs will soon be transformed beyond recognition. Artificial intelligence has huge ramifications on the order of “the wheel or the steam engine,” he added. “But it’s not magical. And we’re well on our way to making a mess of things.” The new technologies and the disruption they cause will eventually create new jobs, Kaplan told FCW after his presentation. He referred to the oft-cited decline in agricultural jobs — whose workers now constitute just 2 percent of the U.S. workforce, down from more than 90 percent 150 years ago — and the creation of countless new jobs that would have been inconceivable to a Reconstruction-era American. Life is far better now that every worker is not stuck behind a plow, he said. And he predicted that in the future, “it eventually may take only 2 percent of the population, coupled with some pretty remarkable automation, to accomplish what it currently takes 90 percent of our population to accomplish.” “I’m supremely confident that our future is bright,” Kaplan added. “I see no reason that this pattern won’t continue. But the key word here is ‘eventually.’” It takes time for these transitions to happen and for new types of work to emerge, he said. “And AI is going to accelerate the pace of this job destruction and job transformation.” So why should federal technologists care? Or rather, why should they care more than any professional whose job could be hollowed out and de-skilled by ever more capable automation? For starters, many government missions could benefit from the explosion of sensor-driven data and machine learning. Thinking about AI as a natural continuation of automation — and being open to replacing “human sensors” in existing processes — could allow agencies to radically improve their effectiveness. And Kaplan said it’s equally important to think about the types of tasks that are not very susceptible to automation. Jobs that include a broad range of responsibilities and especially those that deliver person-to-person interaction will require human workers for the foreseeable future, so agencies aiming for better citizen service would do well to build their systems in ways that put real people at the critical personal touch points. At the broader policy level, the government must consider what’s required to serve a citizenry that could soon face structural unemployment on a massive scale. Does that mean a reinvention of vocational training? Investment in infrastructure to speed the creation of new forms of work? Tax policies to encourage a broader sharing of the economic benefits automation can produce for business owners? A Public Works Administration for the Digital Age? Kaplan was quick to stress that his expertise is in technology, not public policy, but he said bold solutions will be required. “Automation puts people out of work,” he told FCW. “That’s almost the definition of it. And my personal point of view is that it’s not the job of the innovators to take care of the people they’re displacing.” Nevertheless, “somebody else has to step up,” he said. “And that somebody either is government or is facilitated by government policies.” n February 2016 FCW.COM 31 “Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots” By John Markoff Ecco “The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World” By Pedro Domingos Basic Books “The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies” By Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee W.W. Norton and Co. “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future” By Martin Ford Basic Books Additional reading on AI 0216fcw_030-031.indd 31 1/27/16 3:35 PM
March 15, 2016