Minds and machines explore new territory together, says MIT research scientist

The cutting-edge technology of minds and machines is working together, says MIT expert

Abu Dhabi: The combination of mind and machine or human and artificial intelligence will define humanity’s future, an MIT scientist said on Wednesday.

Dr Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management, told the majlis of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, that when minds or human intelligence partner with machines or artificial intelligence (AI), we will have the most significant advancement to our capabilities.

Despite the many human cognitive biases, Dr McAfee argued, the human value in the second machine age includes common sense, asking questions, social skills and partnering with machines.

“The cutting-edge technology of minds and machines is working together. Machines open up new territory, minds and machines explore it together,” Dr McAfee, who studies how technological progress changes business, the economy, and society, told a packed house at Shaikh Mohammad’s palace in Al Bateen.

Shaikh Hamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, chief of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s Court, and a number of senior officials attended the lecture titled ‘The Future of Jobs in the Age of Artificial Intelligence’.

Dr McAfee, co-founder of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, discussed the current age of astonishing technological progress, and where it is taking us.

Dr McAfee also explored both the great promise and challenges for organisations, leaders, and workers of the world we live in as we create and deploy digital technologies.

He said like the revolutions that preceded it, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world.

“At the same time, the revolution could yield greater inequality, particularly in its potential to disrupt labour markets,” he said.

Looking closely at the effects on work and employment prospects of a variety of technologies being used in diverse fields, such as manufacturing, financial services, education and medicine, McAfee said that until recently, technological progress has fuelled productivity and job growth. “But starting around 2011, technology has fuelled productivity but not fuelled job growth — quite the opposite, actually. Part of the reason is that our skills are not keeping up with technological advances,” he said.

Dr McAfee said as automation substitutes for labour across the entire economy, the net displacement of workers by machines might exacerbate the gap between returns to capital and returns to labour.

“For example, the effect of AI will be magnified in the near future as organisations transform their processes and business models to take advantage of machine learning. On the other hand, it is also possible that the displacement of workers by technology will, in aggregate, result in a net increase in safe and rewarding jobs. This “labour bargain” is becoming a tougher one for more and more people as their skills become less valuable, because of both globalisation and technological progress. “

Dr McAfee suggested governments will need to figure out how to deal with this situation. “This will be one of the most important policy arenas over the coming decades. But we also need to keep in mind that this is a situation brought about by the fact that technology is letting us do and create much more with much less drudgery and toil. If we cannot figure out how to deal with this, and how to make sure that the fruits of robots’ labour are shared in a way that reflects our shared values and protects our most vulnerable, then shame on us. In that case, we will have met the real foe, and it will be us.”

Dr McAfee said skilful machines and technologies are going to spread throughout the world’s economies in the years to come, and they are going to push some people, perhaps many of them, out of their jobs.

“However, the rapid changes we are seeing in technology are not sending us hurtling towards a future in which the machines become self-aware and take over. Worrying about that future is so misplaced that it is like worrying about overpopulation … on Mars,” Dr McAfee said.


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