People talk about robots coming for their jobs quite a bit. It’s a big topic, and I have thoughts about a few different aspects of it. But, for today, I want to focus on a particular logical error I see smart people making all the time.
Thinking about robots replacing people one at a time
Consider this quote from Matt Levine:
If you are a human employed at an investment bank and worried that robots are coming for your job, I recommend that story about UBS AG’s forays into artificial intelligence, which I found extremely soothing. There are two products involved. One is a boring office-automation thingy, which “scans for emails sent by clients detailing how they want to divide large block trades up between funds” and then does the dividing, “doing a task that would normally take a person about 45 minutes in only about two minutes.” Yeah look no one is losing their job over that; that is a pure win for the junior person who would otherwise have been doing that allocating.
Now, Matt Levine is a smart guy, and his posts are often very insightful (seriously, read his blog). But this last sentence is a perfect example of the flawed thinking I have in mind. The implied claim is that if a robot can’t replace 100% of a particular job (or at least a very large fraction of that job), then “no one is losing their job” because of that robot.
And that’s just not how it works. Continue reading “A flaw in the way smart people think about robots and job loss”