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Ashton Kutcher: Technology will even take jobs from actors - 'It's happening right now'

  • Actor-investor Ashton Kutcher said actors and engineers are both at risk of losing work to A.I.
  • Kutcher's tech nonprofit, Thorn is using A.I. and other emerging technologies to combat human trafficking and child abuse.
  • Hollywood and Silicon Valley both have their own problems to solve, Kutcher said, but tech companies will have a harder time getting to a gender-balanced workforce.
Ashton Kutcher
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Ashton Kutcher

It's a good thing actor Ashton Kutcher found his way into venture capital and tech.

Kutcher thinks actors could be "automated" out of work, just like everyone else, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence. "It's not like this is 'in the future,'" he told CNBC on Monday.

"It's happening right now. Just look at the growing share of CGI and animation at the box office every year."

He also cautioned that engineers who assume their jobs are safe because their labor is perceived as "highly skilled," should think again. "Engineers will probably be among the first ones automated. Because anybody automating something—the first thing they will try to do is automate themselves, their own logic, and expertise. Writing code, which is a repetitive task, is probably one of the first things you'd automate."

The firm Kutcher co-founded, Sound Ventures, has invested in startups including Angel.ai, 8i and Mark 43, which are developing A.I. for e-commerce, entertainment and law enforcement, respectively. The firm is also invested in MemSQL, a real-time data analytics start-up.

Human trafficking and gender equality

The actor-turned investor was in San Francisco this week to meet with startups he's backed through Sound Ventures.

He also spoke at a small event, Tech for Good, about the nonprofit he co-founded, Thorn, to combat human trafficking and child abuse online.

"Everything has moved online. There may be very few financial incentives to solve some of the biggest problems in the world. But now those problems are all tech problems," he said. "Entrepreneurs and engineers have to ask themselves what am I doing to help? If I'm not doing anything, then I'm part of the problem."

Thorn has enlisted everyone from enterprise startups like MemSQL to massive social networks including Facebook and Pinterest to build sophisticated image recognition and content analysis tools. These help the tech industry itself, and law enforcement agencies, to remove abusive content from the dark web and social networks, and to identify and locate kids in need of rescue.

Now, Thorn wants to speed up its image recognition and content analytics, and to make it possible to conduct age-progression on photos of kids who were abused in the past, to find them and make sure they're safe today.

While Kutcher lauded Silicon Valley's willingness to join Thorn in its work, he also acknowledged tech, and Hollywood, have their own problems to solve especially around gender equality.

We also asked him which was more sexist, Hollywood or Silicon Valley. He wouldn't answer, but he suggested, "Getting to gender pay equality will be easier in tech. That's because Hollywood is built on a quote system, meaning every next job you get is relative to a historical quote for every actor."

By contrast, he said, "It will be easier to get to a 50-50 workforce in Hollywood. It's already being done and it should be done. But in tech, you'll always be tied to college graduation rates in STEM. Having an expectation it must be 50-50 is wrong."