Robotic technology could hamper Trump’s plan to add jobs
Rice computer scientist available to discuss automation’s impact on employment
HOUSTON — (Nov. 10, 2016) — Donald Trump was elected president partly on promises that he would put America back to work and create new jobs for millions of chronically unemployed Americans, but decreasing costs for automation and dramatic improvements in artificial intelligence and robotics could make that task more difficult, according to Rice University computer scientist and automation expert Moshe Vardi.
“Trump’s popularity in ‘Rust Belt’ states, where manufacturing jobs have steadily disappeared for 30 years, was a factor in his winning the White House, but American factory workers aren’t out of work because Chinese labor is cheap,” said Vardi, Rice’s Karen Ostrum George Distinguished Service Professor of Computational Engineering and director of Rice’s Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology. “American factories are producing more goods than they ever have, but they are doing it with robots — not people. Chinese factories are increasingly doing the same.
“The story of robots replacing human workers, not just in manufacturing but in many other sectors of the economy, is playing out not only in America but in Europe and China and other economies the world over,” Vardi said. “The impact on labor has serious political consequences, as we have already seen.
“Self-driving cars, trucks and buses, and self-service retail technology stand to displace millions more workers over the next decade,” Vardi said. “Trump is poised to take office in a world where it makes more economic sense for companies to employ machines than people — especially for the kinds of jobs that have traditionally sustained the middle class. Trump’s economic and labor policies must take this into account if they are to effectively address the deep voter discontent that swept him into office.”
Vardi, who has been studying automation and labor trends for several years, said more attention should be given to the economic, social and political consequences of substituting machines for human workers. He is organizing a Dec. 5-6, 2016 academic conference at Rice — the first such U.S. conference to address the issue — titled “Humans, Machines and the Future of Work.” For more information or to register, visit delange.rice.edu.
Humans, Machines and the Future of Work
De Lange Conference X, Dec. 5-6
Related columns and presentations by Vardi:
Humans, machines and work: the future is now!
Video presentation from Rice University — Oct. 27, 2016
Jobs. Driving. And machines that can learn.
Houston Chronicle/Gray Matters — May 25, 2016
Are robots taking our jobs?
The Conversation — April 6, 2016
The consequences of machine intelligence
The Atlantic — Oct. 25, 2012
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