More Top Jobs Will Go To The Computers


If a computer could ace the entrance exam for a top university , what would that mean for mere mortals with average intellects? This is a question that has bothered Noriko Arai, a mathematics professor, ever since the notion entered her head three years ago.

"I wanted to get a clear image of how many of our intellectual activities will be replaced by machines. That is why I started the project: Can a Computer Enter Tokyo University? — the Todai Robot Project," she said in a recent interview.

Tokyo University, known as Todai , is Japan's best. Its exacting entry test requires years of cramming to pass and can defeat even the most erudite. Most current computers, trained in data crunching , fail to understand its natural language tasks altogether.

Arai has set researchers at Japan's National Institute of Informatics , where she works, the task of developing a machine that can jump the lofty Todai bar by 2021.

If they succeed, she said, such a machine should be capable, with appropriate programming, of doing many — perhaps most — jobs now done by university graduates.

With the development of artificial intelligence, computers are starting to crack human skills like information summarisation and language processing.

Given the exponential growth of computing power and advances in artificial intelligence, or AI, programs, the Todai robot's task, though daunting, is feasible , Arai says. So far her protege , a desktop computer named Todai-kun , is excelling in math and history but needs more effort in reading comprehension.

There is a significant danger, Arai says, that the widespread adoption of artificial intelligence, if not well managed, could lead to a radical restructuring of economic activity and the job market, outpacing the ability of social and education systems to adjust.

Intelligent machines could be used to replace expensive human resources, potentially undermining the economic value of much vocational education, Arai said.

"Educational investment will not be attractive to those without unique skills," she said. Graduates , she noted, need to earn a return on their investment in training : "But instead they will lose jobs, replaced by information simulation . They will stay uneducated."

In such a scenario, high-salary jobs would remain for those equipped with problem-solving skills, she predicted. But many common tasks now done by college graduates might vanish.

"We do not know in which areas human beings outperform machines . That means we cannot prepare for the changes," she said. "Even during the industrial revolution change was a lot slower."

Over the next 10 to 20 years, "10 percent to 20 percent pushed out of work by AI will be a catastrophe ," she says. "I can't begin to think what 50 percent would mean — way beyond a catastrophe and such numbers can't be ruled out if AI performs well in the future."

She is not alone in such an assessment . A recent study published by the Program on the Impacts of Future Technology, at Oxford University's Oxford Martin School, predicted that nearly half of all jobs in the United States could be replaced by computers over the next two decades.

Some researchers disagree. Kazumasa Oguro, professor of economics at Hosei University in Tokyo, argues that smart machines should increase employment . "Most economists believe in the principle of comparative advantage," he said. "Smart machines would help create 20 percent new white-collar jobs because they expand the economy. That's comparative advantage."

Others are less sanguine. Noriyuki Yanagawa, professor of economics at Tokyo University , says that Japan, with its large service sector, is particularly vulnerable.

"AI will change the labour demand drastically and quickly," he said. "For many workers, adjusting to the drastic change will be extremely difficult."

Smart machines will give companies "the opportunity to automate many tasks, redesign jobs, and do things never before possible even with the best human work forces," according to a report this year by the business consulting firm McKinsey.

Advances in speech recognition , translation and pattern recognition threaten employment in the service sectors — call centres, marketing and sales — precisely the sectors that provide most jobs in developed economies. As if to confirm this shift from manpower to silicon power, corporate investment in the United States in equipment and software has never been higher, according to Andrew McAfee, the co-author of Race Against the Machine — a cautionary tale for the digitised economy.

By Michael Fitzpatrick
NYT News Service
More Top Jobs Will Go To The Computers More Top Jobs Will Go To The Computers Reviewed by Daniel Weaver on Sunday, January 05, 2014 Rating: 5

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