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Eric Schmidt makes the case that AI will be good for society

Humans adapted to the industrial revolution and they’ll adapt to automation, the Alphabet executive chairman said at a forum at Columbia University.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt
Axel Schmidt / Getty

Humans will adapt to automation and benefit from it the same way they adapted to the industrial revolution, Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said Friday at a forum at Columbia University.

“What I think is that the technology that’s being built is being built in the open and for the benefit of everyone,” he said.

The comments were made at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs’ (SIPA) Global Digital Futures Policy Forum, where Columbia professor Merit Janow, who is dean of SIPA, was interviewing him about globalization, automation and artificial intelligence.

Schmidt said fears that advances in technology will kill certain jobs haven’t necessarily played out historically. For example, 20 years ago, people thought ATMs would make bank tellers unnecessary by automating their jobs.

“There are more bank tellers now than ever because banks are more efficient,” he said, also mentioning that despite automation in recent decades, unemployment is at its lowest in 10 years.

The statement echoed comments he made Wednesday that he is a “job elimination denier.”

He argued that those who think automation and other advances in technology will lead to negative effects overall miss clear economic benefits of the efficiencies achieved with technological advances.

“You’d have to convince yourself that a declining workforce and an ever-increasing idle force, the sum of that won’t generate more demand,” he said. “That’s roughly the argument that you have to make. That’s never been true.”

Since the Luddites of the 19th century destroyed weaving machinery, the argument against technological advances has been “that a new technology comes along and that there is materially significant displacement and there are local concerns that are very serious,” said Schmidt.

But people have adapted, and internet technology in particular has made people smarter and more efficient, he said.

While the future impact of new technology could play out differently than in past technological revolutions, Schmidt said that “in order to believe it’s different now, you have to believe that humans are not adaptable, that they’re not creative.”

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