Suzanne Scotchmer
Vikings and Zombies and Magicians and Dinosaurs, Oh My!

A Question About the Future of Work...

2018 HRBI Center for Responsible Business Berkeley Haas

Asked at: Berkeley Haas School Center for Responsible Business 2018 Microsoft Conference on Business, Technology, and Human Rights: The Future of Work: I think I understand why previous waves of technology have boosted the employment and wages of unskilled workers. It is because “unskilled” human work is a very hard AI problem. Thus enormous numbers of jobs have been created for humans—jobs that are in a sense drudgery, but necessary drudgery:

  1. performing repetitive tasks as robots we do not yet know how to build,
  2. being simple info processing software bots dealing with and taking action on documents, and
  3. being microprocessors controlling machines and animals.

Practically all humans with their eye-ear-arm-hand-brain combination—the brain being a 50W supercomputer that fits in a breadbox designed by the genetic algorithm over 750 million years of Mammalian evolution—can do anything in any of these three types of tasks. And doing them is very valuable. And until a decade ago, no machines or 'bots could do those tasks.

Hence enormous technological progress has gone along with an extraordinary increase in the value of the human body and the human brain.

But all three of these categories seem to have reached their peak. We are now solving these hard AI problems. And I have no sense of what kinds of things the masses of displaced workers will do in the future at the level of "microprocessor", "robot", "accounting software 'bot".

What kinds of things will we do in the future, at that level of description?