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Artificial intelligence is here: who is it going to benefit?

Jerry Kaplan
Jerry Kaplan: will discuss his his book, Humans Need Not Apply, at the Bay Area Book Festival on Sat. June 4 at 10 a.m. Photo: courtesy Jerry Kaplan

2016 BABF logoThis article is brought to you by the Bay Area Book Festival.

Tempus Fugit. Cui Bono?

Fifty years ago, we could not have imagined phones that communicated without wires. Ten years ago, driverless cars were something out of a science-fiction novel — not on assembly lines. Artificial intelligence has already arrived — hello, Siri and GPS — but has only just begun the trajectory that promises to change our personal and work lives radically. How will it affect you? And—cui bono—whom will these technological advances benefit?

Jerry Kaplan, one of the world’s leading Artificial Intelligence (AI) experts, is concerned about the potential for AI to cause social disruption by deepening the divide between the privileged and the poor. “The robots are coming,” says Kaplan, “but whether they will be working on behalf of society or a small cadre of the super-rich is very much in doubt. The coming wave of automation raises the specter of a world where the one-percenters have it all, while everyone else struggles to survive.”

Kaplan, a serial entrepreneur, technical innovator and futurist, has published an important book on the topic. Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence was selected by The Economist as one of the top science and technology titles of 2015. Kaplan writes passionately about how AI will impact our lives in the not-so-distant future and offers proposals for how benefits can be shared equitably.


Jerry Kaplan Humans Need Not ApplyHe notes that society’s response to the reality of new technologies tends to be sluggish. “These problems are all solvable,” says Kaplan, who is also a Fellow at The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics, “but it will take some time to build a social consensus.”

The latest advances in AI will impact a broad range of industries. Jobs that rely on hand-eye coordination will be strongly affected by a new wave of flexible robots that will take over tasks in agriculture, mining, construction, and surgery. Machine learning is already taking over components of business that generate a lot of data.

Kaplan raises other ethical questions, too. “To what extent should intelligent systems be permitted to act on your behalf? Can your personal robot stand in line for you, bind you to legal commitments, or help you commit a crime? Should it be required to report you when you break the law? Can it testify against you in a court of law? Are you fully and solely responsible for mistakes your robot might make?”

Kaplan’s concerns are so urgent that the Bay Area Book Festival has scheduled its opening session on it at the San Francisco Chronicle Stage at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage. “Humans Need Not Apply” takes place at 10 a.m. on Sat. June 4. Kaplan will start with a visual presentation on just what AI is and how it works. Then Thomas Lee, the Chronicle’s business columnist, will interview him onstage.

If you want a sneak peek at how robots will change the way we live, this is an event you don’t want to miss. The event is free, but if you’d like to guarantee yourself admission (and avoid standing in line), you can purchase tickets for $5 each on Eventbrite, the festival’s ticketing site. The future is coming, so plan ahead — order tickets now before guaranteed seating sells out!

Other Bay Area Book Festival sessions on technology that may interest you:

Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas, Sat. June 4, 3:15 p.m., in the Berkeley City College Auditorium at 2020 Center St. Join Lance Knobel, co-founder of Berkeleyside, for a taste of Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas, which takes place this year on Oct. 14-15. We follow the format of this exciting festival by presenting two creative thinkers on stage: Kara Platoni, author of We Have the Technology: How Biohackers, Foodies, Physicians, and Scientists Are Transforming Human Perception, One Sense at a Time, and Abby Smith Rumsey, author of When We Are No More: How Digital Memory Is Shaping Our Future.


Literature Goes Gaming: Literature Goes Gaming: A New Frontier for Storytelling, Sat. June 4, 10 a.m., on the Journeys Stage at the Osher Studio, located at 2051 Center St. in the Arts Passageway. Come learn how game makers modify traditional story forms for a new platform and audience. Featuring Douglass C. Perry, gaming journalist and enthusiast, and Lise Quintana, creator of Lithomobilus, an e-reading platform that allows for non-linear, multi-threaded literature.

Art, the Atom, and the Electron, Sat. June 4, 5 p.m., at the The David Brower Center, Tamalpais Room, 2150 Allston Way. This visual presentation by Megan Prelinger is based on her recent book, Inside the Machine: Art and Invention in the Electronic Age, which takes you into the little-seen work of 20th-century graphic artists who produced spectacular art on technology. Inspired by minimalism, surrealism, and philosophies of the Bauhaus school, these artists captured the journeys of atoms and electrons from their organic origins to their late-century industrial applications, all in artworks buried within industry trade magazines but revealed here.

2016 BABF logoRelated:
Kenji Lopez Alt: Asking why in the kitchen (05.13.16)
Outdoor library of 50,000 free books is coming back to Berkeley and you can take part (04.29.16)
Bay Area Book Festival announces 2016 schedule (04.16.16)

This post was written by, and is sponsored by, the Bay Area Book Festival. For more information about the festival, which takes place on June 4-5, 2016, visit the festival website. Berkeleyside is a media sponsor of the Bay Area Book Festival.