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Computers may surpass humans, but we'll still have jobs. Here's why.

by Gary M. Shiffman, PhD, on Apr 13, 2020 2:37:51 PM

*This article was originally published by USA Today. To read the original article in full, click here.

Twelve-year-old Gary Leschinsky is a nationally-ranked chess player in the U.S. He has a bright future ahead of him — but it may not be in chess. 

Why? The reality is that there’s not much future for people in chess anymore. Machines have become so advanced that they will always beat us in the game, however smart we are. In "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World", David Epstein notes that this has been the case since grandmaster Garry Kasparov’s loss to the IBM supercomputer in 1997, and that it’s a sign that perhaps we should be outsourcing tactical tasks to computers. Similarly, translation, spell checking, copyediting, transcription, and other jobs heavily reliant on rote memory have all begun to be outsourced to computers.

What Gary Leschinsky has going for him, instead, is something particularly human — his creativity. He’s also an inventor, and he has patented an allergy watch that can detect food allergies. 

What makes humans irreplaceable

Computers and machines can beat us in games like chess, checkers and tic-tac-toe because these games are bound by a finite number of moves and possibilities. Machines can surpass humans in anything that is bounded and literal. They’re inductive: we train them to recognize patterns in data. Humans, on the other hand, are limited in our inductive abilities. There is so much data available today that the human mind simply can’t process it all. 

Here’s the difference: Humans have creative, deductive, emotional and ethical abilities. Machines don’t. This is what makes humans irreplaceable, no matter how many chess matches computers win.  

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What does this mean for the future of work? Will our jobs really be replaced by machines? A Pew survey found that nearly four in 10 Americans worry that’s the case, and a 2019 Brookings Institute report concluded that a quarter of U.S. jobs will be “severely disrupted” by AI in the coming years.

Contrary to popular fears, however, there’s a very relevant and important place for humans in a world of robots and computers. The key is that we have to be strategic about what roles and tasks we assign to the machines and what roles and decisions we protect for the humans. We should be assigning the “chess-like” tasks to the machine while protecting the creative and values-based tasks that are inherently human. 


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