Robots taking half of our jobs within 20 years claim is ludicrous according to Rodney Brooks

Rodney Brooks, robotics entrepreneur and expert, says that claims that robots will take half of our jobs within 10-20 years are ludicrous.

They claim we will go from one million grounds and maintenance workers in the U.S. to only 50,000 in 10 to 20 years, because robots will take over those jobs. How many robots are currently operational in those jobs? Zero. How many realistic demonstrations have there been of robots working in this arena? Zero. Similar stories apply to all the other categories where it is suggested that we will see the end of more than 90 percent of jobs that currently require physical presence at some particular site.

Roy Amara was a cofounder of the Institute for the Future, in Palo Alto, the intellectual heart of Silicon Valley. He is best known for his adage now referred to as Amara’s Law:

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

U.S. Global Positioning System. Starting in 1978, a constellation of 24 satellites but did not start to have major impact until the 1990s.

AI has been overestimated again and again, in the 1960s, in the 1980s, and I believe again now, but its prospects for the long term are also probably being underestimated. The question is: How long is the long term? The next six errors help explain why the time scale is being grossly underestimated for the future of AI.

Imagining magic

If we showed Isaac Newton an iPhone it would appear to him like magic. However iPhones have limitations and the systems that are connected to it have limitations. When we project forward to an advanced technology, that technology will have limitations. We have more trouble understanding.

AI is narrow now and do not have more general human abilities

AI can now label a picture. Human throwing a frisbee. But the AI cannot general the context of other things in the image.

Exponential collapse

Extrapolating through to today from iPod memory doubling in 2002-2007, we would expect a $400 iPod to have 160,000 gigabytes of memory. But the top iPhone of today (which costs much more than $400) has only 256 gigabytes of memory, less than double the capacity of the 2007 iPod. This particular exponential collapsed very suddenly once the amount of memory got to the point where it was big enough to hold any reasonable person’s music library and apps, photos, and videos. Exponentials can collapse when a physical limit is hit, or when there is no more economic rationale to continue them.

Today, we have seen a sudden increase in performance of AI systems thanks to the success of deep learning. Many people seem to think that means we will continue to see AI performance increase by equal multiples on a regular basis. But the deep-learning success was 30 years in the making, and it was an isolated event.

That does not mean there will not be more isolated events, where work from the backwaters of AI research suddenly fuels a rapid-step increase in the performance of many AI applications. But there is no “law” that says how often they will happen.

The World is filled with a lot of old parts

New factories in the US, Europe Japan, Korea, and China, is based on programmable logic controllers, or PLCs. These were introduced in 1968 to replace electromechanical relays. The “coil” is still the principal abstraction unit used today, and PLCs are programmed as though they were a network of 24-volt electromechanical relays. Still. Some of the direct wires have been replaced by Ethernet cables. But they are not part of an open network. Instead they are individual cables, run point to point, physically embodying the control flow—the order in which steps get executed—in these brand-new ancient automation controllers. When you want to change information flow, or control flow, in most factories around the world, it takes weeks of consultants figuring out what is there, designing new reconfigurations, and then teams of tradespeople to rewire and reconfigure hardware. One of the major manufacturers of this equipment recently told me that they aim for three software upgrades every 20 years.

Your house is filled with old devices and machines that are not integrated or connected or programmable.

The US military is flying B52s that are old enough to qualify for social security (over 65 years of age).

The electrical grid and rail systems have systems over a hundred year old.