Did Bill Ackman, John Overdeck and David Siegel give a bunch of money to get kids building robots, only to see those kids displaced by machines when they grow up?
At a benefit for FIRST, the science and technology nonprofit they’ve supported, the answer was a resounding no, and it came from an authoritative source, Jeff Bezos, the guy who has more than 10,000 people working on Alexa, Amazon’s personal assistant voice service.
“It’s in my view very unlikely that machine intelligence and artificial intelligence will make humans have no jobs,” Bezos said in a “fireside chat” with Walter Isaacson at Cipriani Wall Street, as waiters in white jackets placed ricotta cheesecakes at each guests’ plate and poured just a bit more wine into their glasses. “Every piece of productivity increases our wealth as a society, and increases the jobs, and makes the jobs more interesting and higher quality.”
Bezos illustrated his point using Earth-moving equipment as an example. “We could have a lot of employment by getting rid of bulldozers,” he said. “You could get rid of the shovels and force people to dig with teaspoons. This would not make our society wealthier.”
As for managing expectations about the future, Bezos praised science fiction writers for showing us what’s possible (though he noted the computer on the USS Enterprise could have had a more human-sounding voice), and dinged the rest of us on our predictive capabilities.
“We are so bad at imagining the future of jobs,” Bezos said. “A hundred years ago, if I said to you, ‘In the 21st century there’s going to be an occupation called massage therapist,’ you’d have laughed at me.”
Funny thing is, massage therapist may be one of the jobs a robot can get paid to do, if Ackman has his say.
During the cocktail hour, the founder of Pershing Square Capital said if he could have a robot do whatever he wanted, he’d have it deliver “massage on demand.”
Siegel, who serves on the board of FIRST, said he’d like a robot who could go to work in his place. He’d direct the robot from home, and maybe get to spend more time with his kids, one of whom is participating in FIRST’s robotics competition. Overdeck is waiting for a self-driving car.