Dec 19, 2020 - Technology

Workers need help to maximize new machine colleagues

Illustration of a robotic hand reaching out for a person's hand.

Illustration of a robotic hand reaching out for a person's hand. Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A new report adds more evidence to the case that AI can augment human workers, not merely replace them.

Why it matters: We may still be decades or more away from the development of AI that can do everything humans can do, but as the technology continues to advance, workers will need help to get the most out of their new machine colleagues.

What's happening: In a report released on Thursday, the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future dove into the question of how AI will change our jobs.

  • Building on earlier research, the authors found whole-scale job loss isn't likely, and that "the most promising uses of AI will not involve computers replacing people, but rather, people and computers working together — as 'superminds.'"

The catch: Just as AI is always improving by learning, human workers need to upgrade their skills to keep pace.

  • To that end, the report's authors recommend programs that can enhance computer skills from kindergarten through the university level, while urging businesses and worker organizations to build cushions for the sometimes harsh changes AI will wreak on work.

Yes, but: Even as the pandemic has accelerated the diffusion of AI into the workplace — upping the stakes for human workers — millions of students around the country are suffering lifelong learning loss because of COVID-closed schools.

  • "I do worry about this," says Daniela Rus, director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Reducing the effects "will require effort on the part of everybody."
  • Still, academic education isn't the only way to thrive in a more AI-influenced world, notes Thomas Malone, director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence. Social skills — one talent AI very much does not have — will be increasingly important.
"Perhaps we should worry just as much about students missing the chance to have social interactions with their friends at school as we worry about them missing their academic classes."
— Thomas Malone, MIT

Go deeper: AI and automation are creating a hybrid workforce

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