Meet the Todai Robot. The machine cannot read. The machine cannot perform mathematics above the basic arithmetic level. And the machine cannot write. In fact, the machine simply cannot understand anything, according to a TED Talk from earlier this year.
Yet the robot managed to perform in the top 20 percent of students on an entrance exam at the University of Tokyo, which is considered the Harvard of Japan.
This display of "intelligence" raises alarms for the future of work. Namely, if a machine can outscore thousands of students without truly understanding anything, it could spell the end of thousands of jobs.
The Todai Robot, for example, was able to write a 600-word essay on maritime trade in the 17th century better than most students. Noriko Arai, AI expert and member of the team that built the robot, explains in her TED Talk "Can a Robot Pass a University Entrance Exam?" that this wasn't because it possesses intelligence, but rather because it can recognize key words.
"Our robot took the sentences from the textbooks and Wikipedia, combined them together, and optimized it to produce an essay without understanding a thing," Arai says.
"We humans can understand the meaning," she says. "That is something which is very, very lacking in AI."
Over the last year, there has been increasing concern over how smart robots are becoming and the eventual eradication of certain industries. However, most of the focus has been on the loss of blue collar jobs. But according to David Lee, vice president of innovation at UPS, it's not just jobs like factory worker and truck driver at risk.
In his TED Talk titled, "Why Jobs of the Future Won't Feel Like Work," Lee says that even the smartest, highest-paid people will be affected by the "tremendous gains in the quality of analysis and decision-making because of machine learning."
We already know that automation and robotics are drastically changing the workplace. It's been happening for years and the auto industry is a prime example.
When the automobile first came out it put people out of jobs, such as those in the horseshoe business. However, jobs were created in other areas, building highways, creating suburbs and the like.
But what differentiates AI's current effect in the workplace from job evolutions of the past is how quickly robots are advancing. A recent study from the research firm Forrester predicts that over the next ten year, 25 million jobs will be lost. "To put that in perspective, that's three times as many jobs lost in the aftermath of the financial crisis," says Lee.