Baidu recently invited Jerry Kaplan, computer scientist, futurist, author and entrepreneur, for a discussion with employees at Baidu’s Silicon Valley office.

The meeting started with a surprise. Jerry saw the piano in the Baidu café and immediately sat on the bench and began to play. It turns out he is a talented musician who performs on weekends at a restaurant in nearby Half Moon Bay. (You can see him playing here).

During his talk, Jerry explained that “the common wisdom about Artificial Intelligence is that we are building increasingly intelligent machines that will ultimately surpass human capabilities, steal our jobs, possibly even escape human control and take over the world.”

He continued: “This narrative is both misguided and counterproductive. A more appropriate framing is that AI is simply a natural expansion of longstanding efforts to automate tasks, dating back at least to the start of the industrial revolution.”

Key points in his presentation:

  • Stripping the field of its gee-whiz apocalyptic gloss makes it easier to predict the likely benefits and pitfalls of this technology.
  • AI has the potential to usher in a new age of affluence and leisure, but it’s likely to roil labor markets and increase inequality unless we address pressing societal problems.
  • The robots are certainly coming, but whether they will benefit society as a whole or serve the needs of the few is very much in doubt.

Jerry described the type of jobs that are likely to be replaced by technology in the near future. As an example, he compared a registered nurse to a bricklayer.  While a bricklayer essentially has one task (which can be automated), the responsibilities of a registered nurse include providing emotional, psychological and spiritual support. These type of roles, which require interpersonal relationships, will be the most secure in the future.

Jerry concluded his talk by saying that the transition to an increasingly automated society will not be easy.  We urgently need to address problems such as volatile labor markets and income inequality. Jerry opined, “If we can solve these problems, I foresee a future that is more like Star Trek than Terminator.”

About Jerry Kaplan:

Jerry co-founded four Silicon Valley startups, two of which became publicly-traded companies. His latest book, “Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,” was published in 2015 by Yale University Press. Kaplan is currently a Fellow at The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics. He teaches Philosophy, Ethics, and Impact of Artificial Intelligence in the Computer Science Department, Stanford University.