Jobs vs. AI: What happens when everything is automated?

ZDNet sits down with open source columnist Bob Reselman to discuss a question from our not-too-distant future: what happens to jobs when everything is automated?
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

One of the reasons I like to interview experts and students of technological change is to look at the differing perspectives we encounter. Bob Reselman is a technology press colleague of mine. When he told me he was researching the impact of automation on jobs, I knew I had to sit down and chat with him.

Bob asks, " What will we do when everything is automated?" As the author of How To Save Jobs [free download], I immediately went to what I thought was the the big concern: lots and lots of people out of work. But in our interview, Bob took the question somewhere else entirely. His concern is how will people spend their time.

It's an interesting concern, of course, but here's where disagreements occur. From my perspective, he seems to be putting the cart before the horse. I'm far more concerned about how people will put food on the table if automation takes jobs than how they will spend their leisure time.

Both of those arguments, however, ignore the real elephant in the room: how much of an impact will automation and AI really have on jobs going into the future? America's new Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, says that losing human jobs to AI is "not even on our radar screen." He says the problem is 50 years away. That seems entirely unrealistic to me, since jobs are, and have been, lost to automation ever since automation existed.

This is a very big topic. I encourage you to watch the accompanying video. There is no doubt that AI and automation will change the nature of work, just as the internet has, and as television, radio, automobiles, planes, and trains did in the past. As technologists, it's important to not just celebrate the wonderful things our technologies can do, but also be aware of the societal implications resulting from our innovations.

During our interview, Bob cited a number of interesting and troubling statistics. I asked him to provide sources for those stats, and here they are:

Special thanks to Bob Reselman. You can find him on Twitter at @reselbob. Here at ZDNet, we'll be keeping an eye on the overall question of AI's impact on work, both positive and negative. So stay tuned.

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