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A.I. will create more jobs that can’t be filled, not mass unemployment, Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt says

  • Alphabet's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt strikes a contrary tone to many who've warned of large-scale unemployment as a result of artificial intelligence
AI assistants can provide alternatives and present tradeoffs while human asset managers ultimately decide the course of action.
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AI assistants can provide alternatives and present tradeoffs while human asset managers ultimately decide the course of action.

There are likely to be more jobs that can't be fulfilled in the age of automation, according to Alphabet's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, striking a contrary tone to many who've warned of large-scale unemployment as a result of artificial intelligence (AI).

Humans will need to work alongside computers in order to be more productive, Schmidt argued.

Schmidt cited a study by McKinsey released at the Viva Tech conference in Paris on Thursday, which suggested 90 percent of jobs are not fully automatable. The Alphabet chairman said that while some of the routine of a job could be replaced, much of what a human does cannot.

"So what that tells me is that your future is you with a computer, not you replaced by a computer," Schmidt told an audience during a talk at Viva Tech.

The former Google CEO said populations are getting older so the number of people working has decreased. So Schmidt said working alongside computers will be key to get those in work to be more productive.

"We have to make them more productive through automation, through tools. So I'm convinced that there is in fact going to be a jobs shortage. There is going to be jobs that are unfulfilled, and that the way we'll fill them is to take people plus computers, and the computers will make people smarter. If you make the people smarter, their wages go up. They don't go down, and the number of jobs go up, not down, if you see my point."

"People keep saying, what happens to jobs in the era of automation? I think there will be more jobs, not fewer."

At Viva Tech, Jeff Immelt, the outgoing chief executive of General Electric, also spoke out against people predicting widespread unemployment as a result of automation, saying that the idea robots will completely run factories in five years is "bulls--t".

"There's 330,000 people that work for GE and none of them had a productive day yesterday, none of them had a completely productive day. So my own belief is that when it comes to digital tools and things like that, that first part of the revolution, is going to be to make your existing workforce productive," Immelt said during a talk at the Viva Tech conference in Paris on Thursday.

Fierce debate is raging around the impact that automation could have on jobs. Around a third of jobs in the U.K. could be affected by artificial intelligence and automation, while this figure rises to 38 percent in the U.S. by the 2030s, according to a report by accountancy firm PWC released in March.

Some technologists such as Elon Musk warned humans may have to merge somehow with machines to prevent becoming irrelevant in the age of AI. Others in Silicon Valley have suggested a universal basic income could be necessary to help cushion the blow of unemployment resulting from automation.