Home / Silicon Valley / “Utterly Shocking”: Silicon Valley Slams White House for Ignoring A.I.

“Utterly Shocking”: Silicon Valley Slams White House for Ignoring A.I.

If there’s one thing that labor economists and leaders in Silicon Valley generally seem to agree on, it’s that increasingly sophisticated technology is coming to replace American jobs. According to a new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, 38 percent of U.S. jobs are at high risk of being replaced by automation in the next 15 years, compared with 30 percent of jobs in the U.K. and 21 percent in Japan. The United States, like the United Kingdom, is dominated by service jobs in sectors like manufacturing, transportation, finance, and food service, and U.S. jobs are particularly at risk because, according to PwC’s chief U.K. economist John Hawksworth, the tasks American workers perform are just easier to automate.

Still, the White House seems completely uninterested in the imminent threat facing U.S. employment and wages, choosing to cast blame instead on China and Mexico for the decline of U.S. manufacturing jobs. “We want products made by our workers in our factories stamped with those four magnificent words—made in the U.S.A.,” President Donald Trump declared on a recent trip to a Boeing plant in South Carolina. The possibility that robots, not people, might soon be stamping those words—if they are not already—went unmentioned.

The rest of the Trump administration appears similarly unconcerned. During a Friday morning interview with Axios’s Mike Allen, U.S. treasury secretary (and executive producer of Academy Award-winning film Suicide Squad) Steven Mnuchin took some time out from gushing over the president’s “perfect genes” to downplay the threat of automation. The threat of artificial intelligence and robots supplanting American jobs, he said, is “not even on our radar screen,” adding that it’s likely “50 to 100 more years” away. “I’m not worried at all,” Mnuchin said. “In fact I’m optimistic.”

Venture capitalists flatly rejected Mnuchin’s assessment of the current state of A.I. and automation, and the impact they are already having on the U.S. job market. “Utterly shocking, just a willful disregard for the truth,” David Pakman, a partner with New York-based V.C. firm Venrock, told the Hive. “It appears his understanding of A.I. is rooted in science fiction. I’m going to presume he’s just uninformed, which is an unbelievably irresponsibly thing to be as Cabinet secretary. You needn’t be a computer scientist to understand the near-term impact A.I. will have on the labor force. It is not dramatic to say that certainly, in the next seven years possible for this administration, millions of jobs will be impacted.”

Hunter Walk, a partner at seed-stage V.C. firm Homebrew, agreed: “The misguided assumption that the employment impact of A..I is ‘50 to 100’ years away, puts the U.S. behind the curve from a policy standpoint.” He also suggested that the robotics revolution could present an incredible opportunity—but only if the government can begin retraining workers and redistributing productivity gains. “Imagine dual ‘moonshots’ that aimed to ensure America was the leader in A.I. and evolved our education system and social safety net,” Walk said. “These paths to collective prosperity and mobility strike me as more inspiring than palliative pronouncements.”

“If people are thinking about A.I. like what happens in the movie Ex Machina, maybe that is a ways off,” Aileen Lee, the founder of Cowboy Ventures told the Hive. “But A.I. and machine-learning-powered software already exists and is getting better every day, which will have impact on U.S. and global jobs in the next decade. Software has the potential to take over millions of jobs humans currently do—like inputting and reading data, buying and selling merchandise, driving cars, and even diagnosing patients.”

While Mnuchin remains optimistic about the idea that robots apparently aren’t replacing humans in jobs anytime soon, Silicon Valley is trying to come up with solutions for when the inevitable does happen. Tech experts like Bill Gates and Y Combinator president Sam Altman are pushing for solutions to offset the impact of the job displacement they fear is inevitable when robots take more jobs currently performed by humans. Altman has long been a proponent of universal basic income, which guarantees “a base level of financial support” for every person, regardless of their work status. And Gates wants to make companies that replace people with robots pay a tax, which could go toward redistributing the wealth.

Full ScreenPhotos:12 Immigrants Behind Some of Silicon Valley’s Biggest Companies

Sundar Pichai

Sundar Pichai, Google’s C.E.O., was born in Chennai, India, immigrating to the U.S. to attend Stanford in 1993.

Photo: By Simon Dawson/Bloomberg/Getty Images.

Sergey Brin

Alphabet president and Google co-founder Sergey Brin was born in Moscow and lived in the Soviet Union until he was six, immigrating with his family to the United States in 1979.

Photo: By FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, was born and raised in South Africa. He obtained Canadian citizenship in 1989 and briefly attended college at Queen’s University in Ontario. He transferred to University of Pennsylvania, in part because such a move would allow him to get an H-1B visa and stay in the U.S. after college.

Photo: By Justin Chin/Bloomberg/Getty Images.

Safra Catz

Safra Catz, who served as co-C.E.O. of Oracle, was born in Israel. She resigned from her executive role in December after joining Donald Trump’s presidential transition team.

Photo: By David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images.

Peter Thiel

Trump supporter Peter Thiel, who has expressed support for the president’s executive action restricting immigration from several predominantly Muslim countries, is an immigrant himself. Before he co-founded PayPal and made one of the earliest large investments in Facebook, Thiel moved with his family from Germany, where he was born. In 2011, he also became a citizen of New Zealand, adding a third passport to his growing collection.

Photo: By Roger Askew/Rex/Shutterstock.

Satya Nadella

Born in Hyderabad, India, Microsoft C.E.O. Satya Nadella came to the U.S. to study computer science, joining Microsoft in 1992.

Photo: By Stephen Brashear/Getty Images.

Garrett Camp

Garrett Camp helped co-found Uber. He was born in Alberta, Canada, and now resides in the Bay Area.

Photo: By Justin Lane/EPA/Rex/Shutterstock.

Sundar Pichai

Sundar Pichai

Sundar Pichai, Google’s C.E.O., was born in Chennai, India, immigrating to the U.S. to attend Stanford in 1993.

By Simon Dawson/Bloomberg/Getty Images.

Sergey Brin

Sergey Brin

Alphabet president and Google co-founder Sergey Brin was born in Moscow and lived in the Soviet Union until he was six, immigrating with his family to the United States in 1979.

By FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk

Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, was born and raised in South Africa. He obtained Canadian citizenship in 1989 and briefly attended college at Queen’s University in Ontario. He transferred to University of Pennsylvania, in part because such a move would allow him to get an H-1B visa and stay in the U.S. after college.

By Justin Chin/Bloomberg/Getty Images.

Safra Catz

Safra Catz

Safra Catz, who served as co-C.E.O. of Oracle, was born in Israel. She resigned from her executive role in December after joining Donald Trump’s presidential transition team.

By David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images.

Pierre Omidyar

Pierre Omidyar

The founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar, was born in France to Iranian parents. He immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s.

By Ramin Talaie/Bloomberg/Getty Images.

Jerry Yang

Jerry Yang

Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang moved from Taiwan to San Jose, California, in 1978, at the age of 10.

by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

John and Patrick Collison

John and Patrick Collison

Brothers John Collison and Patrick Collison, twenty-something college dropouts who emigrated from Ireland, co-founded Stripe, a $9.2 billion payments start-up.

By Jerome Favre/Bloomberg/Getty Images.

Adam Neumann

Adam Neumann

Adam Neumann, raised on an Israeli kibbutz, moved to the U.S. in 2001, after briefly serving in the Israeli army as a navy doctor. Now he’s the chief executive of the $16.9 billion New York-based WeWork, which sublets space to individuals and companies.

by Noam Galai/Getty Images.

Mario Schlosser

Mario Schlosser

The co-founder and C.E.O. of health insurance start-up Oscar, Mario Schlosser, came to the United States from Germany as an international student, receiving his M.B.A. from Harvard.

By Kholood Eid/Bloomberg/Getty Images.

Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel

Trump supporter Peter Thiel, who has expressed support for the president’s executive action restricting immigration from several predominantly Muslim countries, is an immigrant himself. Before he co-founded PayPal and made one of the earliest large investments in Facebook, Thiel moved with his family from Germany, where he was born. In 2011, he also became a citizen of New Zealand, adding a third passport to his growing collection.

By Roger Askew/Rex/Shutterstock.

Satya Nadella

Satya Nadella

Born in Hyderabad, India, Microsoft C.E.O. Satya Nadella came to the U.S. to study computer science, joining Microsoft in 1992.

By Stephen Brashear/Getty Images.

Garrett Camp

Garrett Camp

Garrett Camp helped co-found Uber. He was born in Alberta, Canada, and now resides in the Bay Area.

By Justin Lane/EPA/Rex/Shutterstock.


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