Man vs. Machine: Will Human Workers Become Obsolete?


Uploaded by PBSNewsHour on 24.05.2012

Transcript:
bjbj"9"9 JEFFREY BROWN: And now, more on the challenges of creating enough new jobs in
an ever more automated and high-tech economy. NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman
has the story. It's part of his ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial news. NARRATOR:
American labor, management and capital. PAUL SOLMAN: Our favorite economics cartoon is
a piece of free market propaganda from decades ago that envisioned a sort of cornucopia machine
of the future, manned by the happy and lucky American worker, given the name King Joe.
ACTOR: Hi, folks. NARRATOR: Joe's the king because he can buy more with his wages than
any other worker on the globe. PAUL SOLMAN: Or at least, back in the mid-20th century,
he could. Today, our NewsHour inclusive statistic of all un- and under-employed totals more
than 26 million Americans, nearly 17 percent of the work force. How many of them worked
at jobs that machines now perform more cheaply? How many so-called knowledge workers are threatened
by the likes of IBM's "Jeopardy" champ, Watson? COMPUTER: I have been waiting for this moment
for a very long time. PAUL SOLMAN: A machine that may soon echo the old song I can do anything
better than you. MAN: Watson? COMPUTER: What is Jericho? MAN: Correct. This mystery author
and her archaeologist hubby. Watson? COMPUTER: Who is Agatha Christie? MAN: Correct. PAUL
SOLMAN: We ve been showcasing the future of technology from a recent conference run by
a California think tank called Singularity University: 3-D printing of everything from
prosthetic legs to organs; iPhone heart tests; new forms of life, organic and not-so-much.
But this story concerns an age-old question raised by the conference with new urgency:
Is the fear of machines making most humans obsolete a reality at last? WILL.I.AM, musician:
It's just going and it's going. It's so scary. PAUL SOLMAN: Will.i.am, lead singer of the
Black Eyed Peas, is also director of creative innovation at Intel and someone who worries
about the so-called digital divide between those who knows how to capitalize on technology
and those who don't have a clue. WILL.I.AM: We use the concept of "Star Trek," but no
one ever thinks about the people that "Star Trek" left behind in the ghettos. It was like,
what was the life like for the people that "Star Trek" left? They never even put a perspective
on homeboy's family with the little visor. So technology can go either way, right? It
can be the prize for humanity, the thing that we created, like, whoa, check this out, or
it could be the doom. LYNN TILTON, professional investor: How many people, how many families,
how many children will be left behind in the process? PAUL SOLMAN: Conference attendee
Lynn Tilton, a professional investor with a stake in more than 70 American manufacturing
firms, was also worried -- less about homeboys than the factory workers she employs. LYNN
TILTON: You ve got to take people along with you where you go, and, frankly, if there is
no work for Americans in the industrial base, you're leaving a lot of people behind as you're
heading to the moon. PAUL SOLMAN: Now, this lament is as old as the hills, the hills of
Rome, in fact, and its first century Emperor Vespasian, who built the Coliseum. But he
built it without the help of labor-saving technology to move heavy columns that had
been invented, but that Vespasian quashed, because it would displace manual labor. "How
will it be possible to feed the populace?" the historian Suetonius reports him to have
said. The most famous anti-automatons were England's 19th century Luddites, who sabotaged
the textile machinery that was displacing them. But instead of grinding to a halt, technology
simply switched to ever newer gears. And, today, we have sneakers, for example, being
printed in 3-D, without a stitch of labor. CARL BASS, CEO, Autodesk: What you have is
molten plastic. And it goes down layer by layer about a hundredth, two-hundredths of
an inch at a time, and it builds it up. PAUL SOLMAN: High-tech CEO Carl Bass says jobs
like making sneakers aren't just leaving the U.S., but leaving the whole planet, as machines
inexorably take over. CARL BASS: Like, you can now go to lights-out factories, where
robots do almost all of the work. PAUL SOLMAN: And lights out? Why is it called lights out?
CARL BASS: Because you really don't need lighting in a place that is run by robots. PAUL SOLMAN:
The key to the current speedup in automation is software. Yale senior Max Uhlenhuth's technology,
which counts and identifies the trees in the forest by algorithm, displaces the human beings
who for centuries have trudged in and done the job by hand. MAX UHLENHUTH, SilviaTerra:
My company is just me and my co-founder right now. It's just two people, and, right now,
we're doing the largest, most comprehensive forest inventory ever done by man. It seems
as though some time in my lifetime, there will be very little work left for humans to
do. PAUL SOLMAN: At least, very little paying work for humans who aren't really smart and
highly educated. And that worries economists like Richard Freeman. RICHARD FREEMAN, economist:
We don't want it to be that there'll 20 or 30 billionaires controlling everything, and
the rest of us struggling for the one or two jobs that are out there. PAUL SOLMAN: But
professional futurists like Ray Kurzweil, whom we interviewed remotely by something
called Teleportec, insist that technology is making everyone rich. RAY KURZWEIL, futurist:
I don't agree that there's a have-have-not divide. You know, 20 years ago, if you took
out a cell phone in a movie, that was a signal that you are a member of the power elite.
Today, there are five billion or six billion cell phones. All of them will be smartphones
within a few years. In fact, anybody with a device like this or any of these devices
is carrying around billions of dollars of capability circa 20 or 30 years ago. PAUL
SOLMAN: The conference mantra, high-tech as cornucopia machine, churning out more than
enough to go around. Singularity's chairman, Peter Diamandis. PETER DIAMANDIS, chairman,
Singularity University: Last century, if you had a watch and I had a hunk of gold, and
I traded you, now you had a hunk of gold and I had a watch. This century is all about,
if you have an idea and I have an idea and we trade, you have two ideas and I have two
ideas. PAUL SOLMAN: But most Americans are now worried that they're not going to have
any meaningful role to play in the world to come. PETER DIAMANDIS: I'm sad about that,
but I am passionate about giving them the tools for free to be able to do those things,
because the -- it's about living into a life of possibility. RICHARD FREEMAN: This is a
very optimistic group that is pushing for technology which will make us all a million
times better off. I don't think they actually think all that much about how it will get
distributed. That's not their business. That's the business of another set of people in this
society, who I think have not done a very good job of worrying about that problem. PAUL
SOLMAN: Richard Freeman means politicians, businesspeople, and his fellow economists.
RICHARD FREEMAN: You have to think of ways of distributing job opportunities and the
ownership so that everybody has a good stake. PAUL SOLMAN: Singularity's Vivek Wadhwa agrees.
VIVEK WADHWA, Singularity University: We will have to learn how to share. We will have enough
to feed the whole world and to look after our people. The question is, will we have
the greedy investment bankers and the greedy politicians trying to hoard it all for themselves?
If we do, we will have social upheaval. PAUL SOLMAN: Not surprisingly, Wadhwa, who oversees
academic programs at Singularity and also teaches at Stanford, Duke and Emory, thinks
ever higher education is key. VIVEK WADHWA: One of the problems in America is that we
believe that education ends when you graduate from college. Wrong. In the new world, in
the new era of technology, we're going to have to realize that education begins when
you graduate, when you join the work force. We have to keep our skills current. We have
to keep learning. We have to keep adapting to technology. That's how we're going to create
employment. PAUL SOLMAN: Employment for the one-third of us who have a college degree,
but what about the two-thirds who don't? Enter companies like Motion Math, trying to bring
the basics to everyone via software, in the form of mobile apps featuring fish, for example,
who eat numbers. MAN: In this case, three. PAUL SOLMAN: As you clear various levels,
the game gets more challenging. MAN: All the way up to very large numbers, subtraction
and negative numbers, really tough. PAUL SOLMAN: Co-founder Gabriel Adauto worries not about
putting teachers out of work, but about getting their digitally undereducated students into
the game. GABRIEL ADAUTO, co-founder, Motion Math: The digital divide is a big problem.
Although national unemployment is high, we're having trouble finding the engineers we need
in our small company. PAUL SOLMAN: And those engineers, says partner Jacob Klein, will
be part of the Motion Math mission. JACOB KLEIN, Motion Math: The kids who play our
games are going to have better math skills, they're going to be more likely to master
engineering skills that will make them employable in the future. It's a long-term strategy,
but I think creating better science, technology, engineering, math education is really the
route of solving the digital divide. PAUL SOLMAN: To Vivek Wadhwa, budding entrepreneurs
like Klein and Adauto are themselves examples of the high-tech cornucopia machine. VIVEK
WADHWA: Right now, the apps economy, building up the applications for devices like this,
employs half-a-million Americans. It came out of nowhere. So what's going to happen
is that the convergence of these technologies will create jobs in areas we can't even think
of. PAUL SOLMAN: But maybe not jobs for people without skills that most us -- let's face
it -- don't yet have, assuming we ever will. JEFFREY BROWN: Online, you can watch Paul's
earlier stories about the California think tank Singularity University. One report is
about technology's next feats, including on-demand kidneys, robot sex -- yes -- and more. The
other is on the potential downsides of innovation, such as personalized bioterror attacks. urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags
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of creating enough new jobs in an ever more automated and high-tech economy Normal Microsoft
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