Man vs. Machine: Will Human Workers Become Obsolete?

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:, 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 country-region urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags
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City JEFFREY BROWN: And now, more on the challenges of creating enough new jobs in an ever more
automated and high-tech economy Normal Microsoft Office Word JEFFREY BROWN: And now, more on
the challenges of creating enough new jobs in an ever more automated and high-tech economy
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