Panel debates whether innovation and the American worker can coexist Automation could wipe out millions of jobs in the years to come

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As the Center for Global Policy Solutions’ recent paper on autonomous vehicles made clear, the age of automation is here, and millions of American workers could find themselves supplanted by robots or other forms of artificial intelligence in the years to come.

Near the start of the “Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and the Future of Work” panel he moderated Steve Clemons, Washington Editor At-large for The Atlantic, posed this question: “Do human beings have a place (in the workforce) 20 years from now?”

Steve Clemons looks on as Dr. William Spriggs makes a point.

The answer from panelist Wilson White, Google’s Public Policy and Government Relations Senior Counsel, was an emphatic ‘yes.’

“For the past several centuries, humans have existed alongside technological innovations,” said Wilson, who added that he does not see that changing in the decades and centuries to come.

Panelist Dr. Daniel Araya, a Research and Policy Fellow at the Brookings Institution, cited the once vibrant farming economy as an example of how the American workforce has adapted to changing markets. But Araya conceded that the automation age will be like no other and will require new ways of thinking and coping.

“We need to invent new solutions, and that discussion is not happening,” he said.

Google's Wilson White speaks.

Panelist Dr. Algernon Austin, an economist at Demos, is one of the co-writers of the CGPS autonomous vehicles report, which predicts that a rapid implementation of such technology could kill four million jobs.

“With the loss of jobs, new jobs are created, so the net change probably won’t be four million,” said Austin, who most fears that those who would be impacted by such technology are disadvantaged groups, like African-Americans and Latinos, already struggling to make ends meet.

“We should all be worried about that,” he said.

Panelist Dr. Williams Spriggs, the chief economist at the AFL-CIO and a Howard University professor, said the tech sector’s grandiose plans for automated vehicles and other innovations will be stuck in park if it does not address the gap between productivity and wages that has long hampered the American worker. If there is not a vibrant and prosperous workforce to buy and support innovations, no one wins, Spriggs said.

Dr. Algernon Austin addresses attendees.

“Until industry understands that, then we can’t get all the wonderful stuff that technology can unleash and make our lives better,” said Spriggs.

Wilson said technology can help both productivity and wages.

“There are certain tasks that will be automated; it is just easier for machines to do those,” he said, adding that if technology was able to make work more efficient, wages could rise.

Dr. Daniel Araya

Though it may not seem like it, Araya said robots and other artificial intelligence innovations are still in their infancy.

“These are baby steps for a turn of events in technological history that’s going to transform our civilization,” he said.

Watch this informative discussion in its entirety.

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