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Robots could be a self-fulfilling nightmare

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

AI hands are beginning to fear that, if leaders and ordinary people are certain that robots and automation will push humans out of work, no one will try to forestall what they regard as the inevitable. That is, intelligent machines really will take over, as the most apocalyptic forecasts suggest.

The bottom line: Experts debate much about the future impact of artificial intelligence, but there is no dispute that the world is headed for — or already in — a massive economic disruption in which whole categories of jobs will be wiped out. An increasing consensus is that the main answer is a massive reskilling effort to move endangered workers into entirely new careers.

Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, bristles at some of the more extreme forecasts of the AI future, such as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak's view that humans could become "pets" of robots. Such talk is "incredibly irresponsible in my view because it will become a self fulfilling prophecy," Kasriel tells Axios.

"If everyone is convinced of that outcome, then no one has any incentive to invest in fixing the system (and in particular, in massive investments in skills training), which will then ensure that we, truly, don't have the skills needed to compete and will lead to a massive amount of unemployment, income inequality and social unrest."

Matthew Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies, worked on a study released last week at Davos that maps out how that profound reskilling of workers can take place.

  • He agreed that attitudes matter in terms of avoiding the nightmare forecasts.
  • "When you are convinced of a negative outcome, it's pretty hard to escape it," he told Axios.