CDT Director Vijay Gurbaxani and guest speaker Martin Ford addressed the future of artificial intelligence and machine learning for the economy, the job market and society as a whole.

Four Things to Know About the “Rule of the Robots”

February 24, 2022 • By Brian Nguyen

For the first Digital Leadership Series event of 2022, Professor Vijay Gurbaxani, Director of the Center for Digital Transformation at The UCI Paul Merage School of Business, invited guest speaker Martin Ford to address the implications of artificial intelligence for humanity. 

Martin Ford is a prominent futurist as well as New York Times bestselling author who specializes in artificial intelligence and robotics. With degrees in computer engineering and business, as well as experience in founding a Silicon Valley-based software development firm, Ford has indispensable experience when it comes to the future of technology. 

After Gurbaxani’s introduction, Ford went straight into covering the details of his new book, “Rule of the Robots: How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything.”  

Artificial Intelligence is Becoming a Utility 

For Ford, what makes artificial intelligence unique is that it brings cognitive capability to machines, which is leading to a paradigm shift in how we approach software. Whereas previously software developers had to provide step by step instructions and teach an algorithm what to do, with machine learning and an abundance of data, AI can figure out how to solve various problems on its own. He went on to say that he believes artificial intelligence is becoming a general purpose technology. 

He said: “Artificial intelligence is evolving into something that is really like a utility, almost like electricity in the sense that it is becoming ubiquitous. It’s going to touch virtually every aspect of our lives, every sector of the economy, every business, every organization.” 

Ford says that AI will become an indispensable part of life and business. Just like electricity, AI has the potential to transform society on the scale of something like the Industrial Revolution.  

AI Will Affect Both Blue-Collar and White-Collar Jobs 

However, Ford maintains that the prevalence of artificial intelligence won’t be positive for everyone. With the advent of any society-shifting technology, there will be drastic changes in societal and economic organizations. Advances in both robotics and artificial intelligence could mean the end to many jobs, both blue-collar and white-collar. 

Ford says: “This story is by no means going to be limited to just robots doing manipulative or blue-collar work - there is also going to be a dramatic impact on white-collar work.”  

For example, people who have jobs manipulating information in a routine way in front of a computer may be at risk. He said: “That, in many ways, is going to be even more susceptible to automation than many blue-collar jobs are going to be.” 

Gurbaxani later asked about how a lot of automation may hit the “low-end” of the market and how technologists could ensure that “weavers don’t burn the looms.” Ford responded with the idea of needing a dramatic restructuring of the social contract and societal organization, bringing up a possibility of a universal basic income or other need-based supplementations. 

AI Can Breed Inequity… 

Artificial intelligence won’t just disrupt the job market though. There are many examples in which AI raises ethical concerns such as in the case of deepfakes, hiring algorithms and even algorithms that deal with law and civil matters.

Ford states that the problem is that the neural networks of AI are like black boxes and not fully explainable. In some applications, such as optimizing the operation of an industrial machine, it is not that important. However, in the case of using a neural network to give a criminal judge a recommendation about whether someone should be put in jail or be released, it's critically important to understand exactly how that decision is being arrived at and that it is not biased. 

“We’ve seen cases where these algorithms have been biased on the basis of race or gender. These are very, very important critical issues that the industry is very much aware of. They raise real dangers as well as real ethical concerns.” 

…But the Benefits Far Outweigh the Risks 

Ford stresses that the potential good that AI can achieve is far greater than the risks involved. Judging by the intense leaps in technological progress in recent years, there is no telling just how far it will be able to take us given the ever-evolving nature of the technological world. 

Gurbaxani asked about the potential domains that would benefit from increased artificial intelligence. Ford very quickly pointed toward the medical industry—specifically the research that goes into drug discovery—as a place that would thrive with more complex and user-friendly AI and machine learning. 

Ford said: “The potential benefits from the technology overwhelmingly outweigh the risks. In fact, I think that we simply cannot afford to leave artificial intelligence on the table; we can’t afford to turn away from it because I think it’s going to be indispensable to us in terms of driving innovation and helping us solve problems of the future.” 

You can listen to the entire conversation between Ford and Gurbaxani here 

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