In mid-November, Russ Capper of The BusinessMakers Show interviewed Moshe Vardi - Rice University Karen Ostrum George Distinguished Service Professor of Computer Engineering and Director of the Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology - about artificial intelligence, automation, and the future of work.
Vardi said three incidents over 20 years sharpened his research focus on automation and the future of work: IBM'S Deep Blue won a chess match against world champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, IBM's Watson won a Jeopardy game against two of the game show's greatest champions in 2011, and in 2016, AlphaGo (based on Google's Deep Learning) won a match against one of the world's top Go strategists using a startling play described as a "not a human move."
Vardi said the Deep Learning breakthrough was significant because it was in the area of intuition -- a difficult concept to explain and program into a robot or other form of applied artificial intelligence. The intuition component of many jobs had created a false feeling of confidence that these were roles in which a machine could not replace a human.
In a separate interview on GeekWire , Vardi described the elements of a job. "Now, what is a job? A job is actually a bundle of tasks," he said. In that interview, he pointed to current trends suggesting many of today's traditional jobs will be unbundled, with some tasks given over to machines and other tasks turned into gigs for humans.
Talking on The BusinessMakers Show, Vardi returned to the theme of unbundling tasks when Capper asked about the projected disruption in the medical industry. Vardi said, "So there are aspects of medicine which are very technical; think of radiology, the person who just had to read the images, and the computers are going to become better [at reading images and interpreting the results] than people. Now medicine as far as the human aspect, you need to be able to talk to someone, look them in the eye and say, 'Look it's cancer, but you have a chance, you can fight it.' And that's a very, very important part of medicine right? The bedside manner may emerge to be the main thing that doctors do because for the rest they'll be able to use computers for the rest."
Vardi also spoke to the impact of automation on U.S. manufacturing, describing an increase in productivity over time with a decrease in human workers. "Well go look at these factories," he said. "They have been under tremendous competitive pressure because of globalization, so that is probably the way they are supposed to respond. They become more competitive, they've increased productivity and how do you do that? You employ fewer people and in place buy new machines. So today look at the modern car factory floor you'll see what they call 'dark manufacturing floor;' you don't need lights, it's all done by machines. I mean they turn on the lights so they can take photographs."