Trump treasury secretary: R2-D2 won't take your job for 50 years

Commentary: In an interview with Axios, Steve Mnuchin says he's very optimistic that AI won't affect jobs in the long run. He offers a Star Wars analogy.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Watch out, kid. He may take your job one day.

Mat Hayward, Getty Images

Perhaps you've been worried that someone will soon design a robot that can do your job.

Yes, a robot that can play politics even better than you do.

And, on a grander scale, what if a robot came along that could code even faster than Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and be a slightly better speaker?

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin believes there's little reason to worry. In an interview with Mike Allen of Axios, Mnuchin was asked how artificial intelligence would affect jobs (around the 46.50 second mark).

"In terms of artificial intelligence taking over American jobs, we're, like, so far away from that that it's not even on my radar screen," he said. He said it would be "50 or 100 more years" before humans should worry about robots making them dispensable.

But wait, aren't robots already taking over human jobs and, indeed, the human ability to drive? Isn't Steve Wozniak worried that he will soon become a robot's pet?

Mnuchin elaborated that he could see Elon Musk's idea of self-driving cars in tunnels going under the whole of America to alleviate traffic.

"That, to me, isn't artificial intelligence. That's computers and using real technology we have today," he said.

To Mnuchin, "that's very different from artificial, you know, R2-D2 taking over your job. You know, interviewing me."

This is a relief. I'd been concerned that a joke-telling robot was a threat.

Still, while it's true that humans have adjusted to technological change many times before, perhaps this time it will be different.

AI as we've seen it so far tends to enrich the few at the top and doesn't filter down quite so readily to those toiling below, and that's got experts worried. Indeed, a Forester report last year suggested that AI will wipe out 6 percent of all jobs by 2021.

On Thursday, PwC estimated that 38 percent of US jobs were at risk within the next 15 years.

Allen in fact pressed Mnuchin about short-term effects of robotics, such as robots that can fold towels in hotels.

"Quite frankly, I'm optimistic," said Mnuchin. "That's what creates productivity." He said training and education were the ways to help American workers, so that they can do more productive jobs for higher wages.

Education is surely a good idea, one that shouldn't be burdened with budget cuts. One survey suggested that the US ranks 14th out of 40 countries studied in "cognitive skills and educational attainment." Which, sadly, puts us below Russia.

A recent Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development study of math, reading and science skills saw the US 25th in science (below Slovenia) and 40th in math skills (below Vietnam, Russia and the OECD average.)

And then there was this White House report that suggested automation of one kind or another will affect between 9 and 47 percent of all jobs within 10 to 20 years.

We'd better hurry up with that education thing. I hear R2-D2 is thinking of starting a family.

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