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Prediction: Robots Will Replace Our Doctors Before They Replace Our Carpenters

Updated: Jan 8, 2019


Which jobs do you think are most at risk of takeover by smart machines powered by Artificial Intelligence?


Most of us agree that factory work is ripe for takeover. Some of us agree that retail will surely be a job that intelligent robots will quickly be able to do. And of course almost everyone agree's that jobs that require brawn over brains will be "disrupted" by robots.


My prediction is that it is going to be a much easier task to create a machine, or software algorithm, that can “think” like a human then it is going to be to create a machine that is able to both think and move like a human. In other words, AI will replace our doctors before it replaces our carpenters.


If in 15 years I am still interacting with a human for more than 5% of my medical care I will be completely dumbfounded. The same goes for financial planning, legal advice and all of the other so called “knowledge work” services that represent most of the high paying jobs of today. And conversely I will be just as surprised if in 20 years I am able to hire robots to install new plumbing in my home.


Most of the prognosticators in this space are highly educated humans and therefore are coming into the discussion with, and basing their conclusions on, an enormous amount of built in bias. Our society places the greatest value on work that is hard for us humans to do, and many of the hardest jobs to do are the ones that require the most knowledge and education. It is safe to say that in the labor marketplace we pay people more to do what is hard for others to do. We pay doctors a lot of money because going to medical school is hard. But what is hard for a human to do is not necessarily hard for an intelligent machine to do. Math is hard for many humans and easy for machines. Memorization and retention is hard for many humans and easy for machines. And the list goes on.


Humans are able to process new inputs and draw conclusions, and make plans, based on inference, imagination, free association, etc. This is something that is quite far in the future for smart machines. But this type of thinking is only required in a small part of knowledge work. The top of the pyramid if you will.


I don’t want to discount the impact that robots will have on manual labor. Robots will of course take over many manual jobs. Jobs where the worker is stationary and is doing a task that is repetitive (i.e. assembly lines), and jobs where the environment is designed and built to accommodate robots (i.e. Amazon's warehouses) will all be completely automated in the next handful of years.


Smart machines powered by AI will be able to make many of the legal decisions that most highly educated judges make long before they will be able to win on the show Survivor.


I could be wrong, but I truly believe that Artificial Intelligence will completely take over industries like financial services, legal and medical long before intelligent robots will be able to compete against, and beat, a human on the TV show Survivor.

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