Automation has displaced a lot of workers in the last 50 years, and it’s set to displace a lot more of them—taxicab and truck drivers, once vehicles drive themselves; much of what remains of manufacturing and assembly work and maybe even a lot of construction labor; fewer lawyers and doctors, once Watson-like software is perfected; teaching, except for the few people making the videos that everyone else learns from. Will we even need waitresses, or just people to bring out the food that we’ve ordered ourselves, once iPads replace menus?
The endgame here is the so-called singularity—the point at which technological development, spurred by Moore’s Law and another generation or two of software and robotics development, is so sophisticated that humans have become irrelevant.
An article in The Atlantic Monthly, back in October, by Rice University professor Moshe Vardi, tackled the question of whether that future is inevitable, and if so, what will it be like. He wrote: “[Artificial intelligence’s] inexorable progress over the past 50 years suggests that Herbert Simon was right when he wrote in 1956, ‘Machines will be capable...of doing any work a man can do.’”
Vardi continued, “I do not expect this to happen in the very near future, but I do believe that by 2045, machines will be able to do if not any work that humans can do, then a very significant fraction of the work that humans can do.”