On Friday morning, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin spoke with Axios’ Mike Allen at the site’s News Shapers event. The big headline-grabber: Mnuchin’s response to a question about AI’s potential to take American workers’ jobs.
“I think that is so far in the future,” he said. “In terms of artificial intelligence taking over American jobs, I think we’re like so far away from that, that [it’s] not even on my radar screen.”
When Allen asked how far away — suggesting seven years — Mnuchin said, “Seven more years? I think it’s 50 or 100 more years.”
Steve Mnuchin is not concerned one bit with AI and automation. pic.twitter.com/VvEooCoAbf
— Axios (@axios) March 24, 2017
That’s an unusual estimate these days. Experts argue about how many jobs will disappear due to automation, what kinds of jobs are most at risk, and how quickly the robots will replace human workers. But generally, they agree on one thing: AI will displace a significant percentage of workers — ranging from 9 to 47 percent — and it will do it within the next 20 years at most.
Rhett Jones at Gizmodo notes that automation is already impacting American jobs:
According to a study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, 5.6 million manufacturing jobs were lost in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010. An estimated 85 percent of those lost jobs were “actually attributable to technological change — largely automation.”
Why It Matters
Of course, if we had our choice, we’d all prefer Mnuchin to be right. A future without AI threatening to make human workers obsolete is a lot more pleasant for everyone, free from the threat of massive unemployment or the need for radical solutions like universal basic income.
But what if he’s wrong (as again, all the available research suggests)?
“As Secretary of the Treasury, Mnuchin is about as well positioned to shape U.S. economic policy as it gets,” writes Taylor Hatmaker at TechCrunch.
Conservative and liberal economists disagree about the best policies to stimulate job growth, but they agree that economic policy matters. Toward the end of President Obama’s last term, the Executive Office of the President released a report examining the potential impact of AI on the economy and the job market, and suggesting responses.
Among the proposed strategies:
- Invest in AI technologies, prioritizing diversity and inclusion in STEM fields.
- Educate the American workforce for the future of the labor market.
- Support workers by providing a stronger social safety net, as well as job creation strategies.
Some of those policies are obviously more likely to gain support during a Democratic administration than a Republican one. But the really dangerous strategy may be not to have one.
“As [technological change expert Andrew] McAfee notes, the best players of Go and no-limit Texas Hold `Em poker are pieces of technology,” writes Emily Dreyfuss at Wired. “Will it really be another 50 years before that same technology unleashes big changes in the global economy? Even if those changes are good for the economy in the long run, they will also hurt. And that pain should probably be on Mnuchin’s radar.”
Tell Us What You Think
Are you worried about automation taking your job, or do you think these fears are overblown? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.