The question, in my view, is how fast we continue to learn new skills relative to our algorithmic progeny.

The question, in my view, is how fast we continue to learn new skills relative to our algorithmic progeny.

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The question, in my view, is how fast we continue to learn new skills relative to our algorithmic progeny.

So who is right: the pessimists (many of them techie types), who say this time is different and machines really will take all the jobs, or the optimists (mostly economists and historians), who insist that in the end technology always creates more jobs than it destroys? The truth probably lies somewhere in between. AI will not cause mass unemployment, but it will speed up the existing trend of computer-related automation, disrupting labour markets just as technological change has done before, and requiring workers to learn new skills more quickly than in the past. Mr Bessen predicts a “difficult transition” rather than a “sharp break with history”. But despite the wide range of views expressed, pretty much everyone agrees on the prescription: that companies and governments will need to make it easier for workers to acquire new skills and switch jobs as needed.

HT Alex Schleber​

Originally shared by Alex Schleber

The Economist: “Automation and anxiety – Will smarter machines cause mass unemployment?”


“…Enlitic’s deep-learning system examines and compares them to see if they are blood vessels, harmless imaging artefacts or malignant lung nodules. The system ends up highlighting a particular feature for further investigation. In a test against three expert human radiologists working together, Enlitic’s system was 50% better at classifying malignant tumours and had a false-negative rate (where a cancer is missed) of zero, compared with 7% for the humans.

Another of Enlitic’s systems, which examines X-rays to detect wrist fractures, also handily outperformed human experts. The firm’s technology is currently being tested in 40 clinics across Australia.”


  1. Probably, before AI becomes a threat on America’s employment rate … the dumping of prices by the Chinese replication bio-tech assembly line economy will be the first step of the ladder for The Old empire don”t Fall as fast as it is expected …

  2. When in history has the government or business shown themselves to be altruistic? I think the common folk will have to fight mightily for any concessions/handouts/fairness.

  3. I’m struggling to grasp the meaning of the term, ” algorithmic progeny “,

    Please help out a poor social scientist?

    But the coincidence in finding this post at the top of my stream is Incredible!

    I had been thinking of a post of a driverless bus test being done in Switzerland (or was it Sweden?) and I immediately thought, “all those poor bus drivers” and then I started thinking about a sector that has been booming for some time, where most of the roles cannot be foreseeable replaced by machines:

    Charity Organisations

    In my opinion, these will continue to grow much larger and diversify into more humanitarian operations that may not have existed before, and that will require more workers with “human touch” skills like sociological and psychological counselling and stuff that require a much higher Emotional Intelligence than anything else. Nothing routine.

    I also see this spreading into other industries.

    Mechanical skills will die out, and jobs that require cognitive skills will increase and also evolve to require more social/emotional cognition as well.

  4. Hi Rotimi Orimoloye​. Thanks for stopping by, especially given the coincidence.

    The algorithmic progeny reference is simply a more poetic way of talking about the future of the artificial intelligence that we build.

    I like your point about charitable organizations, and think it points to something that I also believe, which is that as automation takes over more and more of what today solves our productivity challenges, we will begin to focus more on mission-driven work. The reason, I believe, is that volition and generative capacity are two areas that will long reside within the human domain of capabilities.

  5. You are probably right, Pam Adger​. What form do you see that resistance taking?

  6. In the US? Armed resistance after lots and lots of social protest. It’s going to be the civil rights movement and the civil war all rolled into one. We have the top 5% hoarding wealth at an astonishing rate. The governments of the middle east answer to allah…the governments of the west answer to Giant corporations and banks.

    The turning point…starvation. Global climate change and ever growing poverty will spark the start. Hell…If I’m going to die…then I die fighting. It’s the American spirit.

  7. Gideon Rosenblatt Thanks for the pointer here from my post. I don’t think we are psychologically ready for a real rethink yet. (I include myself in “we.”)

    If our worth (value) is only to the “marketplace” of jobs in terms of what we now call “skills,” we’re doomed. If we can’t learn new skills faster than automation (robots, AI) can, it’s as bad as a Red Queen chase. That part of the discussion is really over. So we need a better definition of human worth, one not subject to traditional measures of skills or even the traditional “marketplace.”

  8. Humans aren’t able to get along well enough to manage a global commune. Jealousy, suspicion, avarice, greed….etc. Our cognitive abilities are substantial but our emotional IQ never seems to progress.

  9. Pam Adger I wish I didn’t agree. We haven’t made emotional IQ a priority. It’s still a fringe term added on to existing beliefs about value—no disrespect to Daniel Goleman! It still has to be justified in terms of how it can be “practical.” Can it even be discussed without relating it to conventional IQ?

  10. I’m totally with you on that, George Station​. In fact, that is increasingly the focus that I’m starting to take with my thinking/writing. In fact, the way you expressed that just now could be a kind if summary for my latest talk in the subject.

    I guess what I’m saying is, I agree. 🙂

  11. The super intelligent are often emotional deficient. I’m not sure we as a species can survive if we evolve too much emotionally. If we end up having to share resources then we have to also be pragmatic when a person or group of people consume an unfair amount of resources. One cannot be too empathetic in a situation where a decision needs to be made to withhold resources for a few in order to guarantee survival of many. Darwinian practices may have to come into play at some point. Those without the stomach to make such decisions have to decide to leave those decisions to the less empathetic members of the group. Lord have mercy… I sound like a post apocalyptic novel.

  12. Pam Adger​, I’m not going to plus your comment above, if out of nothing more than a jinx-like superstition that it will give it more power. 😉

    I worry about the same scenario and it is the other edge to the sword. I work to try to highlight the amazing potential of these tools if we can point them in directions more along that mission-driven path that Rotimi Orimoloye​ is hinting at above. But if we do not, we could well end up in an ugly shooting match. So very many guns in this country and so very many people steeped in a kind of end-of-days view if the world. An increasingly automated police force versus highly distributed and heavily armed militias. Not my idea of Heaven on Earth. Not even close. More like hell.

    All that said, it is not a foregone conclusion. A different vision can affect the future. It can remake it, I believe.

  13. It’s okay to be optimistic as long as you do a lot of digging into the history of social dynamics and understand that just because you don’t want people to be assholes… when push comes to shove and it’s me or you… the asshole will win over the empath.

  14. I just called myself an asshole…

  15. I think in the short term that us true, but there is a longer arch that bends towards justice, Pam Adger​, to paraphrase MLK.

  16. Justice doesn’t mean sacrifice of many to save one. Fairness is actually quite brutal.

  17. And I realize I’m being irritatingly optimistic. 😉

  18. The scariest post-apocalyptic movie I haven’t seen is The Book of Eli. Apparently part of the bleakness is that no one really cares how or why the apocalypse happened. It no longer matters, people are just surviving.

  19. Gideon Rosenblatt

    Great points.

    Another way I look at these things is to consider the “global village” idea:

    As the developed nations have built advanced societies that have led to mass relocations of people with cognitive skills from lesser developed societies, it is not all that far-fetched to consider a reversal of this exodus will occur, but this time for technical labour who had been displaced from their jobs by machines. This is expected as developing countries eventually become bona-fide manufacturing economies.

    I can’t expect my own Nigeria, for example, to become a country where robots run lab tests or where driver-less cars and buses dominate its streets. Afterall there are current business technologies that are taken totally for granted in the US that Nigerian billionaire CEOs are still completely oblivious to. 🙁


  20. Hello Pam Adger

    Is it possible, because of transformations in technology as a result of increased computer intelligence, that society may…

    1) Learn (through machine learning) how to produce more resources than it needs to survive?

    2) Develop super-humanly efficient resource control systems that minimize waste and set-off new algorithms that will dedicate themselves to the development of “replacements” to resources that are at the point of cessation?


  21. Sure but currently… the planet as a whole has enough resources for everyone and because of the greed, avarice, jealousy and unwillingness on the part of some to work on behalf of the whole… refuse to share. I work. I make more money than I need but I’m not willing to give more than a few percent of what I make to support others who don’t want to or can’t work/provide for themselves. My job is stressful, took years to get to, requires that I spend most of the day away from things I’d rather be doing and funding others who aren’t also being forced to also spend time away from things they want to do…

    It’s that mentality on a global scale that needs to be overcome. Fairness means the haves will be stripped of their wealth… fairness means every one has equal share. Humans don’t like that.

  22. I was introduced to the “equity vs. equality” argument in a fairness discussion several months ago. This was in a “diversity” environment and it was unexpected. Anyway: Everyone having an equal share won’t work because everyone doesn’t need an equal share.

  23. Everyone will want an equal share. Those with more won’t want to give up their excess because having more is an advantage.

  24. Oddly, somebody shared a GIF about equity on Facebook that inspired me to come back here. I think we’re at an impasse here, though, without getting more specific. Maybe as a tangent, we could eventually get to common definitions of equity, equality, and fairness.

    When it comes to divvying up or hoarding resources there’s a lot to be negotiated. In some cases there are people who just want more of whatever you care to mention, or who are literally trying to die with the most toys. So yes, not much to discuss in those cases. It might not end well. I do think it’s possible to sort out other cases in a way that would let most of us get on with life. Examples from big to trivial:

    Nestle wants to own all the drinking water. (I don’t think I’m exaggerating much. They’re pumping away here in drought-ridden California under an ancient permit, and they have good lawyers.) That’s a fundamental issue that so far has evaded an easy solution under our current system.

    East L.A. schools, East Palo Alto schools, East St. Louis schools (hm! a pattern?) should have textbooks and plumbing on a par with my home town schools, which were darn good. And equal funding per pupil. None of our schools should have black mold growing in spaces where kids have to sit for hours. Clearly, there are people who are all right with this, at least for other people’s kids, but I think there’s room to discuss the matter.

    When the day arrives in [x] years, I should not have the same retirement income as my next-door neighbor. I do expect a fair income based on the same ground rules that we’ve known about for decades. I don’t think either of us should have to worry about food and shelter in our dotage, whether or not either of us ends up in a Del Webb retirement community. (Maybe I should check—he might be thinking Del Webb for everybody, which is another kind of resource distribution.) There may be a basic minimum income that emerges down the road, if our society holds together long enough.

    I don’t need any Giants tickets at all. Literally none. I have friends in the area who are welcome to all of them. But a couple of concert and movie tickets would be fine and the cost doesn’t even have to balance out. (This example is about having equitable recreational and cultural opportunities that are appropriate to people’s locale and tastes.)

  25. George Station nothing you have said is something I disagree with… I’m just illustrating the difficulty of getting from where we are now to where you want to go. The poor are in the minority now and when they become the majority… the rich will attempt to change the rules of democracy or equality or equity in an attempt to keep their advantage. Violence is probably the only thing that can tip the balance. But I don’t want it to be that way… I’m just not willing to give up logic and history in order to wish it so.

  26. I’m with you on the history part. I don’t think we’re logical beings, or at least not as logical as we aspire to be.

  27. I have no doubt that as machines start to build the machines, and start to assume the developement of new machines, the die will be cast. All of the new tech, from accelerating AI , to new materials ( carbon, alloys, nano structures) all of these will compliment each other. The speed with which technology will replace human labor, such as driving jobs, the last of skilled factory and fabrication work, will accelerate. AI will replace white collar workers, management positions will be unnecessary. Law firms will shift the bulk of their bread and butter jobs (writing contracts, legal advice to AI programs) Service industry jobs will shift to automation ( fast food, janitorial, lawn service). Farms are already automated to a large extent. The police have robot drones that disable bombs, now. There are weaponised police drones now. In fact , robotic police drones could deal with the mentally ill, or armed suspects with less than lethal force, safely, since they dont have to fear for their own safety. The military has always employed thousands. Military drones, whether they fly, drive, ( or march, in the future) are starting to assume military roles that humans performed in the past. They can be used in dangerous situations without risking life and limb of a human. ( or have a service member captured and murdered on video) As the variety and ability of autonomous fighting machines of all types grow, they will be incorporated into the weapons program. A military that can project a countries power and will, without sacrificing the lives of human service members, will be too attractive to pass up. The machines will do just about everything. Remember, the bulk of the masses in most developed countries, do work that right now can be done by machines. As soon as the cost-benefit ratio of using a machine in place of a human, favors the machine, the human will be replaced. It doesnt matter if the human is a driver, accountant, cook , factory worker, or surgeon. If a machine can do it faster, better, or cheaper, it will be used.

  28. Displacing millions of workers will have economic and social consequences. Consumer based economies have to have consumers with money to spend. A handful of weathy people cant drive a large economy. Governments will have to realize this if they dont want economic and social chaos. They will have to put money in peoples pockets during a transition period. Eventually as the machines bring production costs close to zero, the concept of money will fade. I think this is one of the things that Elon Musk is trying to achieve. ( He has talked about how important it is to have machines that create machines)The universe as portrayed on the old Star Trek tv series. Need food or a material object? Walk over to the nearest replicator, tell it what you want, and it is created on the spot. ( 3D printing at the molecular , and eventually, atomic level) this scenario may happen in the developed countries (such as Norway and Sweden) much faster than most believe.

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