Business leaders urge new thinking in age of artificial intelligence

It’s no secret that automated machines and robots are rapidly replacing human workers. 

In Europe, concerns about the loss of good-paying jobs to automation is so strong that the idea of a universal basic income is gaining traction. France, for one example, could lose three million jobs by 2025 due to automation, a former education minister campaigning for the French presidency has argued.

The topic has been front of mind this week for participants at the World Economic Forum’s annual summit in Davos, Switzerland. There, CBS News asked business leaders to look past the hope and hype of artifical intelligence and reflect on the negatives of automation. 

Felix Marquardt, president international at Cylance, emphasized that the growth of artifical intelligence makes an education system overhaul more urgent than ever. 

“The question truly is: are our educational systems ready for the challenges posed by A.I.?” Marquardt said. “Our schools are still primarily churning out job seekers, when what we need is for them to churn out job creators. Entrepreneurship needs to be much more seriously taught.”

Cylance is an antivirus software built on a platform powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

Ryan Permeh, chief scientist and co-founder of Cylance, put the issue in historical perspective, emphasizing that markets have adapted to widespread automation before. 

“The reality is is that it’s also opening up a large number of jobs -- certain areas are going to shrink and certain areas are going to grow. We saw this with every industrial revolution,” Permeh said.

The loss of good-paying jobs to rapidly expanding automation has enormous political consequences. It’s a point President Obama has made throughout his presidency, but particularly emphasized in his final weeks in office. 

In an extensive interview with The New Yorker directly after Donald Trump’s election, the president forecast the dramatic economic disruption ahead.

“...At some point, when the problem is not just Uber but driverless Uber, when radiologists are losing their jobs to A.I., then we’re going to have to figure out how do we maintain a cohesive society and a cohesive democracy in which productivity and wealth generation are not automatically linked to how many hours you put in, where the links between production and distribution are broken, in some sense,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama hammered home the same point last week in his farewell address, warning that “the next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas.”

“It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete,” he said, and repeated his call for a “new social compact” to protect Americans from sliding into poverty as a result. 

Bob Moritz, CEO of professional services firm PwC, struck a hopeful note. Based off his conversations with CEOs, companies will always be in the market for what robots cannot provide, Moritz said. 

“We’re still looking for creativity, because that can’t be coded,” he said. “Robotics and computers and coding actually gives you a very straight and narrow path to go down a fine course. The world we’re living in today is a lot more zig zag, and people are going to be important to that equation to solve for those problems.”

Reporting for CBS News from Davos, Switzerland: Lulu Chiang, Lauren Hoenemeyer and Gilad Thaler  

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