BUSINESS

Satya Nadella Cautions Against AI Stealing Jobs But Reassures It Won't 'Write Like Rabindranath Tagore Anytime Soon'

People will have to learn new skills to survive the threat from automation, he says.

21/02/2017 11:58 AM IST | Updated 21/02/2017 2:14 PM IST
Abhishek Chinnappa / Reuters
Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella talks during a news conference in Bengaluru, India, February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Abhishek N. Chinnappa

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been a big advocate of artificial intelligence and the use of robots, but he also has a candid warning about its impact on jobs, saying people will have to simply re-train and learn new skills to survive this threat on employment.

Nadella, who is visiting India to promote the company's products, on Monday said that while AI will play an important role in the future of technology, we are still far from advanced forms such as "human level understanding of language."

"We have a few parlour tricks but not anything that says we can actually have the ability to write like Rabindranath Tagore any time soon,'' Nadella said.

Nadella noted, however, that technologists are indeed making progress in AI. Microsoft itself is building an AI-based digital assistant called 'Cortana,' which will accompany its operating system, and what Nadella calls "a third run-time" after the inventions of the browser and the operating system. The company is currently working on giving this AI "agent" capabilities to understand natural language.

"I think it is an exciting future but at the same time, you have to be very mindful of the impact of AI on jobs...That's why I want to make sure some of the skilling work we are doing in India is going to help people," he said.

According to him, for a services-based country like India, even with advances in AI, there will always be many jobs that AI may not be able to perform.

"When there is a lot of artificial intelligence, real intelligence will be scarce, real empathy will be scarce, real common sense will be scarce. So, we can have new jobs that are actually predicated on those attributes."

Nadella has talked about the moral imperatives of AI in the past. Earlier this year, he said at a conference in Germany, "We need technological breakthroughs that drive growth beyond 'us'... in the world. ... We now have to do our very best work, both as tech industry, the rest of the industry, the public sector, the government, in being able to help our people get skilled for the jobs of the future. That, I think, is the most pressing need."

Earlier this week Microsoft Co-founder Bill Gates made a rather radical suggestion about AI, saying that robots that steal human jobs should pay taxes, as a way to help governments to slow down the advance of AI and use the resources to create other types of employment.

While tech companies and government work out the exact role the technology could play, AI's advance so far hasn't been without hiccups.

In 2015, Microsoft's briefly experimented with "Tay," a bot which was designed to chat on Twitter, but shortly after launch, it began spewing offensive tweets including ones with racist, pornographic and sexist content prompted by other users.

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