AI and robots aren't gunning for your job, White House economist says

AI will create new jobs and new consumer demand, he predicts

zora robotics

Zora Robotics programs Pepper robots from SoftBank subsidiary Aldebaran to operate as robot receptionists in hospitals.

Credit: Peter Sayer/IDG News Service

Artificial intelligence and robots aren't coming for your job anytime soon, the U.S. White House's chief economic advisor says.

Some technology experts worry about the economic impact of AI-powered computers and robots, but Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, predicts that AI will grow the economy instead of take jobs away. While some jobs may disappear, AI will create new jobs and consumer demand for new products and services, he said Wednesday at the Nvidia GPU Technology Conference in Washington, D.C.

Some studies have suggested that automation will replace half of all jobs in the coming years, but Furman questioned those predictions. While some jobs may disappear, AI will create new jobs and consumer demand for new products and services, he said Wednesday at the Nvidia GPU Technology Conference in Washington, D.C.

While technology critics believe "the robots are going to take all our jobs away from us," AI won't change the basic rules of economics, Furman said. AI will create some economic challenges, just as other technologies have, he said.

In recent months, news outlets have published many stories about fears of AI taking workers' jobs away, Furman noted. But worries about robots taking away jobs date back to the 1930s, and fears of machines replacing workers go back centuries, he said.

"What you find is the basic economic law that machines make you richer, and richer people want to spend more money," he said. "And that grows the economy."

AI systems still have to be trained heavily to specialize in one area, making them a poor fit to replace many jobs, Furman said. AI "just can't wander from place to place on its own," he said.

Instead of worries about replacing jobs, the biggest AI-related challenge for the U.S. and other countries is "we don't have enough AI yet," Furman said. Most developed countries have seen anemic growth in productivity over the past decade, and AI could resurrect the numbers, he suggested.

AI can bring benefits in several industries, including health care, consumer fraud detection, and criminal justice, "and that's just going to accelerate and grow over the years and decades to come," he said.

Furman and France Cordova, director of the U.S. National Science Foundation, both called on the U.S. government to invest in AI research. The NSF has several "big ideas" for funding that touch on AI, Cordova said.

The U.S. government spends about US$200 million on AI research each year, while private investments account for about $2.4 billion a year, Furman said.

U.S. government R&D spending has not kept up with the economic growth since the 1960s, but the government still funds more than half of the basic research being done in the country, he said.

The federal government's research budget isn't likely to grow significantly, but it can be "smarter" about using the funds it has, Furman said. Expect more government projects like the  Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency self-driving vehicle challenge, he said.

The U.S. also needs a more highly educated workforce to drive AI forward, Furman added. "Computers can beat humans at Go, chess, and Jeopardy, but those computers needed to be programmed by humans," he said.

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