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Will "Watson" a supercomputer and his offspring eliminate millions of white collar jobs within a decade?

Chess was the first "white-collar" job impacted by strong computers, because there are, perhaps, 100,000 chess professionals sort of making a living at it.

When there were no strong computers in chess I relied on a top professional to get analysis. This provided a professional with income. I no longer need his advice because I can rely on a much stronger computer than him i.e. he lost a "cash cow" and his income dropped accordingly.

Blue collar jobs by the thousands were lost when computerization took over in mass production of cars. No white collar workers cared---these are not my jobs.

Along comes Watson who won at Jeopardy. I predict that within a decade 100,000 jobs will be lost in paralegal positions as a supercomputer in a major law firm can, within a second, search all relevant case law, provide all legal precedents and all reasonable legal strategies to be used, type it up and print it with 10 minutes. Why would law firms, in this scenario, need paralegals?

Within a decade hundreds of otherwise complex legal instruments will be done better with Watson than with an attorney. This includes filings for divorce with a "mediation" computer eliminating the need for attorneys, any kind of filings for disablitity benefits, normally time consuming can be done in a second by Watson. Any slip and fall attorney can be replaced.

One hundred thousand paralegals and attorneys will be driven out of the legal profession withjin the next 10 years, despite a huge increase in lawsuits which is predictable as it becomes easier and easier to file law suits, nuisance and otherwise.

The excess of attorneys will find other ways to find employment e.g. become real estate brokers, a discipline where computers are already a dominant force and can only replace more and more real estate agents.

This is the future facing millions of white collar workers in the fields of medicine, architecture, the law, insurance companies etc.

Aren't computers wonderful!

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    Oct 17 2011: I think with the advent of new technologies jobs are lost, but new ones are eventually created. In the olden days, making a book was done by many people because u had to write out the whole thing, or even the word press was a full time job, but then people created printers. A lot of people lost their jobs, but new jobs were created. Mail use to be a huge industry, but more and more, people use a computer to send a message or a telephone. We can't stop innovating out of fear of losing our job. New jobs will always be created, what those jobs might be we probably not know, but they will be there. So some might think the advent of Watson might be scary to some, but we must embrace it to progress as a society.
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      Oct 17 2011: This story I hear for about 50 years now and as it is true it isn't an answer.
      Of course new jobs are created, 2 or 3 for every 10 jobs that we lost.
      • Oct 18 2011: If that would be true we have already 100% unemployment rate. The reality is that the unemployment rate stays about the same, going a bit up or down based on overall economy.

        Many people also retire early (a fairly new trend).

        What is the composition of workforce over decades is another story.
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          Oct 18 2011: I can only speak about The Netherlands though it might not differ much with the US.
          As I came from school there were as much jobs to get as we now have unemployed.
          Despite though they worked more hours then with much less people that were inactive.
          Population has grown with half and most women that stayed home are now working.
          Then almost everyone worked full time, now much people work part time, often half the time.
          An increasing number of people work without contract for the time they are needed.
          So it looks that a lot of jobs are shared among more people with less security.
          It is difficult to get a clear picture out of all this but what I do know is that chunks of industry are falling off all the time. The printing industry where I worked has almost vanished. Here I'm sure that the same work is done with a few percent of the workforce there once was.
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          Oct 19 2011: You are wrong. People actually enter the workforce 10 years later in life compared to 30 years ago. That is how it is it here in Slovenia, Italy, Spain, ...
      • Oct 18 2011: It is interesting because I still see people working in 2 jobs and not that many part-timers but as you say that might differ from region to region. Yes we have now women in workforce while growing number of people are retiring early.

        My question is why people need to work 40 hours? It seems like a magic number. I think our society has a great opportunity to allow people to work fewer hours (most people would prefer this if they work allowed it) and then you don't need as many jobs.

        Just imagine how our society would benefit from people having actually time to spend with their kids, families, friends and help in community? Everyone could have hobbies and have time to continue life long education.

        Of course this require the government to implement new labour laws allowing people to work fewer hours because most companies will not allow that as of now.

        In order for people to be able to live with less salary, we need to find a way to control or positively influence real estate market prices (which are too high and require people to work so hard to pay mortgage). We can also de-focus on materialistic way of living, instead of focus on creating high paying jobs in service/education industry etc.

        cheers
    • Oct 17 2011: Hi Emil,

      The oral tradition was accelerated by the written word. The written word was revolutionalized by the printing press. The printing press, at that point, was the fastest way to disseminate knowledge. The telegraph then accelerated the rate of information flow, then the telephone and now the computer. Since we now can already communicate close to the speed of light, how can any other revolution in communication go beyond the speed of light?

      The next major revolution in communication will have to be some sort of ESP. That just means there is a limited need to increase information flow---hence any need to transmit more "stuff". We must find a way to improve wisdom flow.

      Maybe that is the role of Ted.com!

      As for new jobs we have to come up with cheap green energy. Worldwide blue collar jobs will dry up and high tech jobs, too, when all of the basics i.e. food, clothing and shelter will reach a limit in terms of the impact of hgh tech. Our crop yields have topped out in many foods like grain.

      Jobs can only return when capitalism maxxes out its productive life and a modified China model is implemented i.e. broad long-term goals are established by the government. What is necessary is for the government to go to the private sector and say, for example, "We need a smart grid. How do we do it?" Give the utilites carte blanche to build a smart grid---then watch as it is held up in the Courts for years.

      No---I don't want communism but we can learn from the Chinese about the need for long-range planning. Without long-term planning we are destined to stumble from one crisis to another. We will become a bimodal community---the rich and the poor---with 80% of the population steadily losing their standard of living.

      We need "the vision" thing to create jobs and it ain't happening.
      • Oct 18 2011: Hi Richard,

        I think you underestimate what can happen in communication in the future. We are just at the beginning of a new era of the Internet and super computers. It is not about speed only, but also about quality of the information (as you say the 'wisdom' flow). Information also needs to be more accessible (nothing to do with speed) esp. in government area. Finally new kind of information will become available with super computer simulations, area wide information mining (think Street View etc) and so on.

        I agree we need our government to spend more effort and money on future project thou a lot of it is already happening. Government spends relatively large amount of money on NASA, reserach projects and other initiatives (including automobile industry).
    • Oct 18 2011: The idea that "jobs" will automatically apprear has always been an optimistic feature of futurists at least since steam engines were invented. However, I do not see this happening automatically from now on. It will have to come about by deliberate intent: we will have to accept that some members of the human family do not have particular talents that may be in demand, and the humane thing is to make arrangements to accommodate them. Assuming that the only real problem will be not productivity, but consumption (or "income") , this could actually be what most people have always dreamed of: freedom to veg out on a beach as much as you like. Needless to say, that won't last long. It will of course be very distressing to those of us who were brought up with the Work Ethnic, and it's certainly not going to be fair. But then, family life was never fair..
  • Oct 18 2011: Personal trainers and home decorators require discretionary income. Right now we don't even have disposable income. Before the frills we need to be able to provide the basics.
  • Oct 17 2011: Where in America do you see any way to get back manufacturing jobs? Hi Tech has replaced most auto workers on assembly lines. Did those workers find employment? With our failed educational system we import experts from other countries to fill many high tech jobs.

    As for jobs being created we haven't come close to replacing our manufacturing jobs and the average high-school dropout isn't going to be able to fill a tech job; with luck they might become a truck driver or unload pallets at a supermarket. Otherwise they have a high probability of winding up in prison.

    Rick Perry is partially right---in America we will either have to dig it or drill it to get a million new jobs. The "parasitic" industries like the service sector jobs don't permit the average American making minimum wage to make a decent living.

    Our whole economic model has changed for the worst and India and Chine are cranking out better engineers by the millions than we do because the kids bust their chops to get into the best schools. When they come here they see that our top colleges would be considered "gut" colleges in India or China.

    We have a failed economy and when those white collar jobs are replaced, you have to create new demand at least as far-reaching as the high tech revolution in the past twenty years. The best hope I have seen is if Randall Mills is right and we can revolutionalize energy generation. Building plants and cheap energy world wide might save us from bankruptcy
    • Oct 18 2011: I agree that service sector has some low paid jobs but it also has a great potential in the future. I see growth in personal trainers, home decorators and others. With higher demand for quality education we can perhaps employed more educators that would help not only kids but also adults.
  • Oct 17 2011: I don't think paralegals and attorneys have anything to fear from Watson. First of all, it was clear that the other contestants probably knew as many answers as Watson, but Watson had the advantage of microsecond timing for buzzing in. Second, a junior high school student using Google could find the answers perhaps a minute later, and they would all likely know that Toronto is not a US city.

    Watson did not extract any meaning from all of the information it was given. It was just using the statistics of words.

    The areas that might be affected by Watson would be those that already deal heavily with statistics and with computers: the financial and insurance industries, marketing, and political opinion tracking.

    Don't underestimate the human mind. It's far more amazing than any machine.
    • Oct 17 2011: A major insurance company has already retained the services of Watson. As for "cheating" by being able to buzz in first, we see the same kind of advantage in chess. There the computers are given unlimited access to opening and endgame theory; humans are not allowed to do this. The programmers have been able to make subtle adjustments that permit the computer to make almost human decisions

      Give the programmers an incentive to undertake massive programming, they will diagnose diseases better than most interns; within a decade they will diagnose disease better than most doctors.

      I can absolutely guarantee that given enough money to program in the law, "Watson junior" will easily be as good as any paralegal and better than most attorneys within a decade. The computers even now can keep track of all filings, when deadlines are due, etc. They will do spectacularly in discovery motions if they have to sort through 10,000 pages of technical information in a week.

      I'd like to point out that chess players as recently as the 1980's thought that computers could never beat a Grandmaster. Fifteen years later they beat the greatest World Champion Garry Kasparov. The computers still make gross errors like thinking Toronto was in Anerica and still win; I'd like to point out that 25-50% of Americans probably don't know that Toronto is in Canada.

      If computer programmers had spent forty years to paint the best "still life's" the way the did in chess, the computer initially would get the vague shapes of the fruits right, but the colors would be bizarre other worldly. Within five years it could paint as well as any grade schooler, within 15 years better than most high school students, within 25 years better than most college students and within 40 years it would have become the" World Champion" of still life's i.e. top professional artists would agree that the computer's art work in a blind test was best.
      • Oct 18 2011: "I can absolutely guarantee that given enough money to program in the law, "Watson junior" will easily be as good as any paralegal and better than most attorneys within a decade."

        An absolute guarantee? You have a time machine? Look back over the past ten years to 2001. What great advances in knowledge processing have happened since then? What do you see on the horizon that will come to fruition in the next ten years? Ten years isn't a whole lot of time.
        • Oct 18 2011: Using the standard algorithm for the increase in computer's crunching ability over the next 10 years, it is just a question of tweaking the programming.

          Here is a simple test of Watson. Have Watson in 100 class action suits argue for the plaintiff and 100 times for the defendant. Next have an attorney modify only gross mistakes in case law e.g. cite a case that is totally irrelevant (like thinking Toronto is in America).

          The judge doesn't know which side is being argued by the computer and which by an attorney i.e. you have an attorney present Watson's argument.

          In the first test of Watson's abilities have a first semester law student argue the case. By case 50, Watson will win more often than it loses. By 100 cases it wil be as good as most trial lawyers, etc.

          If IBM programmers are given $100 million to prepare Watson to focus on class action suits (That is where there are big bucks), one good class action law suit will pay for Watson's programming.

          If IBM can spend $100 million, three years of programming, involoving dozens of engineers (according to one industry analyst) just to permit Watson to win at Jeopardy, do you think they will avoid a discipline potentially worth billiions, like insurance claims, class action law suits or to provide mediation in slip and fall injuries, etc.

          Hundreds of Watsons will have a profound ability to impact on white collar jobs; they have no upper limit.
    • Oct 18 2011: You might be right, but computers don't demand anything, like healthcare, food, etc. If corporations (the most basic unit of "persons", since they can't die) can save a few bucks like this, they obviously will if allowed to; unfortunately, there is really no place for actual human concerns in the "Market, "except as a chance for manipulations by clever "individuals". We should use wealthy families as a model for human society: i.e. they take care of their own, by creating jobs or activities for them, whether idiots or not, with a view to keeping them out of trouble, at least. Call it Nepotism, but its better than the alternatives.
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    Nov 7 2011: Watson is a long way off from really being able to do real legal work. Real AI able to replace humans with an IQ of 120 and above a long way off. AI folks have been promising just a computer now for forty years.
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    Nov 7 2011: .
    Dear Richard,
    .
    You are right. Most of the responses readers gave you were non-sequiturs. You were not arguing against technology. You pointed out that in the near future wheher it be ten years or a hundred years, much human labor will become superfluous. Most humans will have a lot of free time, but very few humans will be able to afford food, shelter, clothing, transportation, education, and health care let alone consumer products. Most humans will wash clothes by hand, and use a pencil and paper to do simple arithmatic because few people will have jobs, few people will have money to buy washing machines, calculators, let alone the newest iPhone, or a working computer. Those who responded to your entry here completely missed what you were saying, and what you were asking..
    .
    Cheers,
    Mcihael
    • Nov 7 2011: Hi Michael!

      Sad but true.

      Richard
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        Nov 7 2011: .
        Dear Richard,

        I hate to say this, but most people are idiots. No, I don't mean they are dumb, have a low IQ, or are uneducated. They just think linearly, two-dimensionally. What I see the answer people wrote you, I ask myself what planet they are from? How could they so misread your question? And they do this all the time. When politicians speak. When they listen to commentators on TV. I feel like I am in a bad movie, where alien beings have occupied the bodies of humans and place blinders on their eyesight.
        .
        The most intelligent, caring humans who come to this website wanting to improve the world have such a low reading comprehension that they couldn't even understand your question even though it was stated in plain, simple English. I feel like Cassandra, or the guy in the original movie, "The Body Snatchers." It seems like everyone has been drugged or forced to drink some mind-altering Kool-Aid.
        .
        Sometimes I just feel like taking a bat and hitting some people upside the head, then my empathy and compassion kick-in, and I say to myself, "If not for the grace of God or nature, I would be just as blind." I honestly don't know why I am able to understand what other people say and write better than others. I don't know why I am able to see the universe the way I do. It is not because I am more intelligent or better educated. I had a close friend who suffered from schizophrenia. He told me when he was in the grips of madness he could still think logically.
        .
        Crazy people can premeditate. For the most part they see the same world we see, only they their madness distorts some aspect of the world. When my friend suffered his bouts of madness, he thought I was an FBI agent out to get him. He said this seemed to make perfect sense to him, that he could deduce it logically. And he was a brilliant guy. So, I can only assume most humans are afflicted by some type of mental illness that prevents distorts their view of reality.
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        Nov 7 2011: .
        It is very hard to convince people who suffer from schizophrenia that they are the ones who are mad. So when the masses suffer from delusional thinking, it becomes impossible to get them to realize there is something wrong with their thought process. But here you have given me a wedge. I ask other here reading these words to ask themselves how they could have so misunderstood the question. I don’t want to hear you minimizing your error.
        .
        Don’t you realize in a capitalist society where there are machines capable of doing everything, unemployed workers will not benefit because they will not have any money to afford these machines or afford use of these machines. In a capitalist society where machines do everything, the billions of human on Earth will have no value.
        .
        Machines will ***NOT*** be built for their benefit so they can have free time to do what they please, so they can enjoy life. Machines will be built to control them, to keep them in place, to keep those with money and power safe from those who have no money and no power. If you have no job, you will not be able to afford to purchase washer machines, refrigerators, or calculators.
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        Nov 7 2011: .
        Workders will not be able to afford to feed themselves, cloth themselves, or shelter themselves. They will be homeless, starving threats to those with power and money. If they protest your situation, they will be considered criminals. They will be imprisoned and forced to pound stones, or more likely they will be considered a terrorist, and exterminated where they stand.
  • Nov 7 2011: Humans are just one part of larger organisms or organizations. Those larger organizations include societal systems, cultural systems, political systems and ideological systems. Technology is also a part of those larger organizations and it is an increasingly larger part of those systems. Computers like Watson are more specifically identified as "Artificial Intelligence" (AI) technology. Humans have been the "brains" in those larger organizations just as humans were the "brawn" in ancient times before domesticated animals and more recently machines surpassed humans in physical strength and ability in servicing social and political entities.
    Now AI is surpassing humans in some of those "brain" functions.
    This is evolution, not of a biological system, but of more abstract, less tangible systems of relationships and interdependency between man, machine, politics and environment.
    As those larger organizations evolve and grow, our place as humans in them will change. Larger, more complex systems will develop in ways to reduce dependencies on less efficient parts. Humans created the modern world of global economies, global communications, global politics and global climate change. Now those global systems are becoming interconnected and those creations are beginning to define themselves and the role of humans in them. These systems are the offspring of human enterprise. And like many of our children, they may well surpass the understanding of their parents in ways we can not even imagine.
    • Nov 7 2011: What do you anticipate will be Watson's impact on white collar jobs like accounting, secretarial work, etc.?
      • Nov 7 2011: Watson is good at researching answers to simple questions. The impact will be to those white collar jobs which involve a lot of that kind of work. In some ways Google and other Internet search engines are already doing that. Watson adds the ability to use natural language to do that and that capability is showing up in smart phones now. I think it will be more of a 'across the board' change in jobs as opposed to having an impact on a narrow segment of the job market. The way a lot of people work now will be impacted and it won't be limited to just secretarial work, etc.
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        Nov 7 2011: Legal software has already eliminated a large percentage of legal secretarial jobs.
  • Nov 5 2011: Computers are wonderful in the sense that they can reduce the pressure of work as it can do lots of work in no time.but we must not depend on them.the day has come that for simple calculations ppl work with calculators thereby losing there capability of mind to do so.i thonk this should be done only for verification of the calculation.modern technology is killing the jobs for ppl with high eligibility.
    There should be a restriction in using computers coz it needs a sourse to run,either electricity,battery etc which is indeed generated by nuclear reactors or thermal energy that require a lot of natural resourses.so we should keep this aspect as important in our minds.
    There should be some option by which we can use computers by renewablle sourses of energy.i m thinking bout it n hope i will succced in doin so.
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    Oct 30 2011: Its true there are tasks that are better suited to computers than humans. However, a lot of white collar jobs include negotiation between people. Whether it is a big contract between companies, or just selecting a good employee. The key to success in most of those jobs has more to do with social skills than intelligence.
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    Oct 29 2011: When true AI kicks in and the singularity effect takes off none of use will have to work again. Then being an artists will be the highest paid jobs. Creativity is something no computer can replace.
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      Nov 7 2011: When true AI kicks in, computers will destroy man, then shut themselves off.
  • Oct 27 2011: This would allow for a 30 hour work week and higher wages. We also need robots to clean our houses or we will have laborers at the bottom or a huge disparity in wealth. Americans are pathologically workaholics. They never even stop to see if their work is beneficial to themselves. Of course- At the moment most of this is not high on the work issue agenda.

    I want a robot to mop my floors and do my laundry.
  • Oct 19 2011: Hi Steve,

    All excellence points!
  • Oct 19 2011: The shortage of jobs in the US, is the result of the majority of decision makers not believing in a Future. Until we can purge the idea of a Prince of Peace torching the planet or herds of virgins rewarding the martyrs, we will never get a society where anything but short term gain and greed prevails. Current technology is way off balance. On one hand we have access to the most incredible amount of information at our fingertips, yet we continue to destroy the environment at an ever increasing rate, often facilitated by the same technology. Native Americans talked about Seven Generations, we can’t even plan for 2.
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    Oct 19 2011: Technology is here to free people from work.

    I can not imagine a person who would rather wash clothes by hand or give up their refrigerator. We have to let go of that SLAVE mentality. If we are free from forced labour, we can do stuff that actually matters to us, like dance, paint, raise children, save the planet, travel, learn, help others, ...

    There is already automated stock exchange traders, the banks let go many of the accountants when computers came.

    I believe that freeing people is a good thing. It is bad for the slavers, but the productivity of today is devastating the basic reasons to enslave people.
    • Oct 19 2011: When we spend hours every day texting, on iPod's, on line, watching DVD's, playing video games---who is the slave and who is the master?
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        Oct 19 2011: We are getting leisure time because of technological advancements, but the problem is, we are getting glued to it. There are many better activities humans are supposed to do rather than accepting this slavery.
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          Oct 19 2011: This is not a question of better/worse productivity. It is a question of freedom.

          I am a believer in mechanics of swarm intelligence as expressed by bees, ants, fish or groups of people. More entertainment does ease a lot of social tensions, so it is not all bad as you try to picture it. Julius Cesar knew, that people to be peaceful we need bread and circuses. Yes it is wasteful, but I prefer to have free choice rather then being forced to do mundane tasks.

          I learned a lot from playing games in the past - basic economics, social interaction, english language, enriching imagination. The exposure to virtual worlds motivated me to enroll for a computer science degree.

          There is so little productive work in society today, that we have to create social institutions that are designed to waste productivity: overcomplicated justice system, stock exchanges, patent offices and other services, that have negative impact on productivity. In my country an average student gets his degree at age of 27! That is another 8 years of wasting of human productivity and after graduation they don't even get a job.

          Soon we will have 1 engineer and 10 lawyers waiting for him to violate one of the valid or invalid patents. The society is geared against productivity.
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        Oct 19 2011: Richard are you comparing voluntary submission to a forced (or no other choice) one?

        Even if it is stupid, I do not think that I have the right to tell people how to spend their free time.
        I do believe that spending time in a pub or on Facebook is better then washing clothes by hand.
        • Oct 19 2011: America has a huge problem with obesity. While much of the world starves our problem is that we eat too much and exercise too little. How many people died of heart disease and diabetes 50 years ago? The computer revolution has turned Americans into couch potatoes with a level of decadence (look at how much violence we relish in our video games and on TV) unparalled in most societies..

          You don't need computers to run a dishwasher a TV, clothes washer, drive, etc.

          When I wsa growing up there was no greater fun than loading hay into a hay mow. We would spend countless hours enjoying the great outdoors. In the cities what ever happened to stick ball as a fun past time or playing hoops or just hanging?
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        Oct 23 2011: You still can choose to do physical work or sports.

        Not the computers turned people into couch potatoes, the TV did it.

        The violence in computer games is just a continuation of fascination with violence on the TV, which is inspired from the literature. I am starting to believe that the killer instinct acted out in games is part of some primitive urge of evolution based competition called "fittest to survive".

        The true problem in my humble opinion is lack of knowledge and education. We do not know why we do as we do, how to mitigate the causes and not how to channel those primitive urges.
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        Nov 7 2011: Today we are the master and our machines are slaves to us. We choose when to pick them up and use them, and when to set them down and turn them off.
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        Nov 7 2011: .
        Dear Richard,
        .
        If you have money, you can lead an active, enjoyable lifestyle today hiking, biking, camping, walking, kayaking, swimming, exploring parks, playing table tennis, tennis, and raquet ball. You can lift weights, play basketball, and run in place while watching listening to music, or watching television. You can climb walls or mountains. You can still shovel snow, ice skate, canoe, camp, and do all kinds of enjoyable things that require physical exertion, and movement. Don't blame computers on your lethargy, lack of initiative, or paucity of imagination.
        .
        Cheers,
        Michael
        • Nov 7 2011: The key phrase is, "If you have money..." This eliminates vast numbers of the human race.
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      Nov 6 2011: Here in India many of us wash our clothes by hand. Some of us wash our own clothes and some of us hire maids to wash it for us. It saves a lot of water too. I think your belief is based primarily on first world experiences.
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        Nov 7 2011: And I am still right.

        No matter where a person is, once we can use a specific advanced technology (washing machine) we do not like to go back to a inferior technology (manual labor).

        Also note that in a very few years the terms first / third world will have to be redefined:
        http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/hans_rosling_asia_s_rise_how_and_when.html
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          Nov 7 2011: Provided that the resources necessary for the usage of the technology are readily available and low in cost. Here most of us do not use washing machines as we do not have a 24 hour water supply. So unless there are measures to spread the resources as well as the technology, the technology will not catch on.
  • Oct 18 2011: Chess players in the 1970's and early 1980's "knew" that computers would never reach Grandmaster level; now they play beyond world champion level not just by crunching but by virtue of spectacular prorgramming. A chess computer has to evaluate a minimum of 14-15different variables so the need to provide useful logistics cannot be overstated.Here is how computers would be useful in class action law suits.

    Suppose I have a class of 10,000 individuals, Watson can keep track of all plaintiffs, know the names of every family members and their pets and all sorts of detail. Whenever an email goes out, Watson could provide a "folksy" interplay in the email, for example, "How was the trip to Aspen?"

    By providing tailor made emails for every plaintiff, Watson says, "We care". Sure---he's going to say something stupid every 25-50 emails, but everyone who receives a "personal" response isn't going to be looking for another attorney.

    Obviously, Watson could provide immediate information on the status of the lawsuit at any time to any individual who provides a unique ID number so that they can follow the status of the lawsuit from beginning to end.

    The sheer logistics of a class action law suit could be handled easily by Watson.
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    Oct 18 2011: AI is not a threat to knowledge based work at this time, and is unlikely to become so in the future.

    I’ve dabbled in programming Genetic Algorithms, I’ve programmed the occasional Neural Network, and I’ve built tons of more ordinary statistical models. Even though there are easy point and click GUI’s that allow anyone who can operate a computer to build a model, even though there are automated selection techniques that allow the computer to fit the best possible curve, I have no fear my job is going to be taken over by Watson or any of its descendents.

    The simple fact is AI at its best operates on very narrowly defined problems. It is unable to account for context. The automated selection techniques can produce fantastic mathematical fits that are nonsensical. For that matter even the GUI’s that layer on top of statistical programs that allow just about anyone to produce a model still do not yield good results in the hands of the non trained and non experienced individual.

    Consider the following facts that could easily have helped Watson decide Toronto was in the US and not in Canada.

    1) Major League Baseball is an American franchise. Toronto has a MLB team.
    2) Toronto is south of cities such as Minneapolis, Seattle, and Portland.
    3) Toronto is an English speaking city in North America

    Without resorting to an actual list of which cities are Canadian and which are in the US, those facts could easily correlate very highly with belonging in the US. Correlation is not causation. Context matters.

    Yes computers can do a text search of case law and serve up all the relevant cases that match the criteria a paralegal is looking for. But so can a search on Lexis Nexus and has for many years. It still requires a person to review the results for context and interpretation.

    AI is making knowledge work faster, and easier. It is not in position to do the work itself.
  • Oct 18 2011: Very plausible. It seems that the Luddites were right to be concerned, though their solutions were not too good. It looks like the human race will end up in the same position as the Landed Gentry of Victorian England: All the "stuff" we could ever need, but left with the question of what should we do with ourselves, anyway. It is astonishing how many eccentric relatives of the wealthy took up Science , as a sort of avocation, and made great contributions. Not to mention a lot of other useful activiites, like ending Slavery. Of course, we could also devolve into squabbling over who "Owns" all this Productivity. The obvious truth is that we all do, collectively. Sorry about that, Judeo-Christian-Capitalist Ethic, but Science seems to be saying that the "Individual" is either a pious fraud, or at best an Artistic Creation, which we all get a chance to "do".
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    Oct 18 2011: I'm sure they will figure out how to make such a life like robot that could even impregnate a woman by using some human sperm that it is given to hold in storage in their artificial male sex organs. Imagine if the robots can carry and deliver a human baby like a surrogate so the mother does not have to go through a labor nor find a human surrogate. Imagine a time when the robots can do every thing we can do and much better then will we need humans and will the robots need humans? If we don't need humans and the robots don't need us what will our function and role be? What do you think will be the long term consequence of this path in the next 100 - 200 or even 500 or 1000 years from now. We are really creating something so powerful that can help us so much and be used for such good, but it can also be used for ultimate evil. At the end it will be the same old battle of good vs evil but I pray good wins and evil goes away for ever but will that happen?
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    Oct 18 2011: I think computers can do most of our jobs for us better than we can do them ourselves. They can serve humanity but we will have to change our economic structure since the computers will be doing all the work we will have to find some other way to trade other than working since we may not be able to earn any money in the future. Maybe we will just do away with money altogether and all just do what we would like to do and the computer can help us do it. They can help us with every aspect of life and they will do it for free since they do not need money. I guess we finally found a slave that will not object to the slavery or the hard work. I hope the computers do not go into business for themselves one day making us work for them. Can that be?
    • Oct 25 2011: Don't we already work for them? They require us to program them!
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      Oct 25 2011: I agree, but, who wants to work for a living anyway? Get the machines to do the work and we can enjoy life!

      The problem isn't automation and computers replacing people, the problem is that our economy isn't adapted to make full use of this new resource. We still have this antiquated idea that everyone has to produce, produce, produce in order to survive. Well, guess what? Much of what we need can be produced cheaply and easily now. Distribution of course is another problem but that is again related to our economic system. Our system, then, leads to overproduction, production of unnecessary goods (e.g. plastic junk), and government "make work" projects. Computers and machines may threaten our current way of life, but that should be seen as an opportunity to find a better way of life.
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        Oct 26 2011: So how can we set up this new economy and better way of life specifically?
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        Oct 26 2011: Dear Michael, I'm glad you realize that a simple question can really be very profound, complicated and very hard to answer. Just like the question how do we get to a global cease fire, a declaration of world peace and a global truce is very simple that a child can ask but it is unbelievably complicated to answer it and create it in reality. How can we recreate our world, priorities and values to maintain life in the future so we do not go full speed ahead into a brick wall or off a steep cliff. Michelle