Should You Fear the Robot Apocalypse?

(This article was written by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones).

People  need to be very clear on the difference between automation and artificial intelligence. You can’t just casually refer to “the job-destroying potential of robots, artificial intelligence and other forms of automation.” These are totally different things.

Plain old automation does indeed usually produce more jobs than it destroys. This applies to more than just steam engines and electricity, and an ATM is nothing special in this regard. It’s ordinary, old-school automation even though it relies on microchips and communications networks. Of course ATMs can’t do relationship banking. How could they?

Artificial intelligence is entirely different. If you don’t believe we’ll ever get it, that’s fine. Make your case. But if you do believe it’s coming in the near future, then you need to treat it as a completely different thing. Pretty much by definition, true AI will be able to do anything a human can do. So no matter what new jobs you think AI will create, then by definition AI will be able to do those jobs too. If true AI is in our future, the robot apocalypse is very much something we should worry about.¹