In an interview with Axios’s Mike Allen on Friday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he was unconcerned about the possibility of machines replacing significant numbers of human workers in the near future, saying it was “not even on [the Trump administration’s] radar screen” and insisting that displacement would not be an issue for another 50-100 years. “In fact I’m optimistic,” he told Allen.
While there’s a healthy ongoing debate over just what impact automation will have on the workforce, Mnuchin’s assertion that it is not a matter of any particular urgency raised some eyebrows. “Just about anyone who works on or studies machine learning would beg to differ,” the Atlantic’s Gillian B. White responds:
To be sure, most experts agree that the impact of advancing artificial intelligence won’t be felt equally. It’s less likely that machines will suddenly be able to replace the entirety of a human’s workload, but instead, that machines will become able to perform more and more individual tasks—and eventually to solve more complex problems. But without planning and intervention, such as retraining efforts, this could create an even more stratified workforce, where only the most educated, highly skilled, senior workers have stable work. And that would have disastrous implications for an already troublesome economic inequality gap.
Writing at Slate, Daniel Gross also takes issue with Mnuchin’s analysis, considering that we are already seeing automation in fields as diverse as manufacturing, fast food, finance, insurance, and even law. Manufacturing is one sector for which Gross finds Mnuchin’s lack of concern particularly troubling: