There is little point in debating the fact that artificial intelligence is likely to offer humanity an astonishing opportunity to bring out rapid prosperity for everyone.
However, the question of whether or not the society is ready to seize those opportunities is something that will depend on the choices that those in power will make.
There is a rather vast lot just along the Mon (or as some like to refer to it, Monongahela River).
It is also pretty vacant.
More importantly though, it represents a scar forms the decades-old industrial past of Pittsburgh.
Some may recognize the huge lot as the site of Jones & Laughlin steelworks.
The Jones & Laughlin steel works represented the biggest facility in Pittsburgh when the city had steel as its dominant industry.
Of course, very few of the massive structures now remain.
Most of the empty fields that those structures left behind are actually pocketed with infrequent small remainders of the steelmaking industry.
There are also some odd buildings here and there.
All of it stares down the nearby river that is at downtown Pittsburgh.
Hazelwood represents one of the poorer of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods.
Right next to this neighborhood is a sprawling site that once represented a good chunk of Pittsburgh steel industry.
In Hazelwood, a moderately-sized house can actually go for a little less than $55,000.
The problem doesn’t only lie with Hazelwood though.
Many other towns that exist along the same southern stretch just along the river and towards West Virginia such as Duquesne and McKeesport have similar circumstances to deal with.
Of course, there are economic reasons for their squalid condition.
The huge coal and steel industries that these towns relied on are now nothing but a fading memory.
One of the oldest steel sites in Hazelwood went by the name of Hazelwood Green.
This is what its developers called the site.
And by the looks of it, it is slowly but surely coming back to its former self.
There is one edge of this town which is fenced off from the rest to keep out prying eyes.
This is where a company that goes by the name of Uber is testing its self-driving autonomous cars.
Some consider that land as a test area for the company.
There is also a new road which is closed to the general public.
This road traverses a total of 178 acres on which the test site exists.
The road comes as a complete package with parking signs along with a blue paved path and fire hydrants.
There is a sidewalk there as well.
It should not take too much of an imagination for anyone to picture the future of this road when it will be bustling with many visitors that may come to the nearby planned park right along the riverfront.
Now, we have talked about Uber using the site as a test area, but this redevelopment effort’s gem is, without a doubt, Mill 19.
What is Mill 19?
Well, right now it is heritage area.
In its previous life, it was a coke plant.
The complete structure goes for a good quarter-mile in its length.
It sits quietly surrounded by empty fields.
Local authorities have stripped the Mill 19 spot clean to nothing but a metal skeleton that is three stories high.
There is also a full crew of workers that is busy in clearing out all the remaining debris.
They are actually making preparations for the reincarnation of Mill 19.
If everything goes exactly according to plan, then by the time the next spring comes around, the building’s very first occupant would have moved in.
Who is that very special first occupant?
It is, the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute.
Very few people living in the city appreciate the symbolism that comes with robots occupying the former space of a steelwork area.
Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that Pittsburgh is doing everything it can do reinvent itself.
And it is making use of artificial intelligence, robots and all the other advances in automation to do that.
These technologies are coming straight out of its own schools.
One particular school that has made tremendous strides in all the aforementioned steels is the Carnegie Mellon University.
The CMU along with many other schools are trying to turn Pittsburgh’s fortune around by creating a completely new and high tech economy.
There is also Lawrenceville:
A city that is situated about ten kilometers from Hazelwood.
Lawrenceville, as a city, has transformed itself into a center for all the major developments in the field of self-driving cars as far as the United States if concerned.
As alluded to before, Uber Advanced Technologies has managed to occupy a good handful of the old industrial buildings.
Nearby are other self-driving startups such as Aurora Innovation as well as Argo AI.
There is also Caterpillar who has set up shop here.
Caterpillar is mostly concentrating its efforts on autonomous backhoes.
It is also developing other heavy machinery which would, one day, have the brains to operate to operate on its own.
All of these startups and the general layout of the area has prompted investments worth billions of US dollars from several places around the country including Silicon Valley.
Needless to say, for the city, it is a welcome development sign.
The city has endured a moribund economy for decades now.
In fact, the effects of a weak economy are pretty visible all over the city.
Of course, now, a common sight features self-driving autonomous vehicles going about their business on a test ride.
There are now also some trendy restaurants where one can see people lining up in what some civic boosters have called the Robotics Row.
It is true that a lot of longtime residents of the city have started to complain about the home prices skyrocketing every since these technology firms decided to come with their offices, testing facilities and everything else.
However, what these residents will also tell you is that these are some of the best days for the city that they have seen for a very long time.
That doesn’t mean Pittsburgh economy has received though.
In fact, by several measures, the city’s economy is still struggling despite having all this high-tech activity in its area.
One factor that definitely goes in the city’s favor is its population.
The population stopped hemorrhaging away a long time ago.
However, between the 1970s and 1980s, the total population of the city fell by 20 percent.
We don’t mean to say that the population has turned its way around and has started to increase.
It is far away from growing by any measure.
More importantly though, it is aging.
Just during the previous five years, a total of 70,000 people who were age between 35 and 54 left the city for another one.
A little further from the center of the city and all of the elite university campuses, are areas where the major portion of the hope that the city would prosperity lie.
People in these areas believe that their progress lies with natural gas and coal which they can get from fracking.
They aren’t too interested in self-driving autonomous cars.
There is also the fact that high-paying jobs are pretty few in number in these areas.
Another problem is the opioid addiction.
This and all the other factors make Pittsburgh pretty much a microcosm of the United States industrial heartland.
It also makes for a good test case for a very important question that each and every city and perhaps even country faces.
The question is:
Assuming access to emerging and new digital technologies such as self-driving cars, advanced robotics, and AI along with other breakthroughs, can these prove themselves enough on their own to spread quick prosperity to any region’s population at large?
Or would the prosperity that these technologies have brought on concentrate only amongst the wealthiest of investors, entrepreneurs and, of course, a tiny portion of technology workers.
According to Scott Andes who works at the National League of Cities, Pittsburgh, as a city, can’t just play the role of a producer of amazing ideas and talent that don’t really bring in any jobs.
He further added that Pittsburgh represented an important case study for the new millennium economy.
Because it may become one of the first cities to leverage all the research strengths directly into economic value.
How will AI affect jobs?
One would be hard-pressed to find a more disingenuous and/or sillier debate in the whole of the tech sector whether artificial intelligence and robots would take and destroy human jobs or conversely would help companies to create new ones in abundance.
The fact is, AI and its outcome as far as job generation is concerned, will mainly depend on all the related economic factors.
The pace of artificial intelligence is intensifying by the day and how all of that will play out is something not many can predict or know.
Of course, the one thing that no one can doubt is the fact that robots along with automation have managed to wipe out a ton of jobs all over the world in the last couple of decades.
This is especially true in industries such as manufacturing.
Daron Acemoglu, an economics professor at MIT, and his colleagues did some research in order to accurately quantify the true impact of industrial automation and robots on economies by using available data from 1990 to 2007.
What the team found was that for each and every robot that was present on a given factory floor, around six jobs were lost.
What does that mean in terms of the number of jobs lost to automation and robots?
Well, for the years that the team looked at, the number came out at 670,000.
While the level of robot usage in the United States at 2016 levels, the team found that a total of 1.5 million jobs were lost.
Changing work with automation
Some rightly believe that gauging the net loss or gain of the total number of jobs because of artificial intelligence and robotics is a fairly tricky business.
However, it should become clear to anyone that the nature and kind of jobs that will become in-demand in the future will change drastically as the requirement of manual labor will decline to record levels.
Along with that, there will also be an increase in human and digital skills.
According to estimates by the Mckinsey Global Institute, a total of 50 percent of all work-related activities in the US can reasonably be automated.
However, the majority of the times these statistics are difficult to interpret.
That 50 percent mark does nothing but describes the actual technical feasibility of the existing jobs that a company can automate with the help of emerging and existing technologies.
According to the McKinsey Global Institute chairman, James Manyika, the actual number of jobs that will go away will depend on the benefits and costs of deploying machines to replace people.
The other uncertain thing about the whole situation is the number of jobs that AI and other emerging technologies will create.
Roboticists along with other technologists continue to assert that advancements made in the fields of robotics and automation would eventually lead to an abundance of work-related opportunities.
It is another fact that so far that hasn’t actually happened.
The other thing that readers need to understand here is that very few of the aforementioned breakthroughs have managed to reach the major sectors of the country’s economy like health care and others.
Some have called for a bit of patience on part of critics of emerging technologies.
Historically, advancements in technologies have always led to increases in incomes.
That, in turn, has led to an increased number of services and goods.
And that has led to the increase in the number of jobs.
However, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and one of the top economic advisors to former president Bill Clinton, Laura Tyson, has recently made efforts to ask the question that perhaps everyone has on their mind.
Laura’s question is simple enough:
What if advancements in robotics and automation that will lead to more services and good, this time around, don’t actually require a lot of human labor to offer and produce?
According to Laura, this was the first time that advancements in technology could go on and reduce the net demand for workers that are human.
Acemoglu recently said that macroeconomists had this naive view for several decades that advanced in technology always lead to the creation of more jobs.
However, alarmists have the view that this time around, the advancement in areas such as AI, robotics, and automation would destroy jobs.
The truth according to Acemoglu lies somewhere in the middle.
Advancements in technology have the capability of destroying as well as creating jobs.
Acemoglu also said that in the past, technology has always come with economic benefits that have resulted in the creation of more jobs than it destroyed.
More recently though, Acemoglu says, the job-destroying face of technology has garnered more media attention for a multiple number of reasons.
Some believe that a major part of Acemoglu has described in this talks is what some have started to call the productivity paradox.
In theory, with advancements in automation and big data, artificial intelligence should have enough about it to make new businesses and make old ones more productive.
This, according to some, can boost the economy as well as create new jobs which would offset the jobs that AI destroys.
Of course, that hasn’t exactly happened.
A few economists believe that is is only a matter of time before AI and other advancements in technology start to create jobs.
Although they have also said that this time around, advancements in technology could take several years before doing that.
The other thing that one should not forget is how the debate regarding the number of jobs that advancements in technology would create or destroy essentially obscures a more significant point.
The kind of jobs and the actual location of those jobs are both changing fast.
That is exactly what is causing a significant amount of pain to local economies as well as people.
For example, in the United States of America, the demand for workers in restaurants and warehouses (which basically offer low-paying work) is rapidly growing.
But along with that, the demand for high-paying work such as in occupation that requires workers to have a lot of technical skills like programming is also increasing.
Simultaneously, most of the traditional middle-class worker jobs in sectors such as data processing and manufacturing are losing momentum.
In other words, they are decreasing.
Such trends have actually enabled trends that have at least contributed to if not caused a record level of inequality in terms of income.
According to Tyson, not a lot of experts have a disagreement that advancements in technology are changing the occupations and skills in demand.
Tyson also said that advancements in technology would continue to give more momentum to rise in income inequality.