Steve Mnuchin, the genius behind Suicide Squad and our nation’s treasury secretary, isn’t worried about artificial intelligence or automation. It’s not even on his radar, so just relax.
On Friday, Mnuchin sat down with Axios’ Mike Allen to talk about a wide range of issues including the strength of the dollar, tax reform, and Donald Trump’s “perfect genes.” At one point, they got around to addressing the topic of American jobs being replaced by technology. Here’s what they said in video and text form:
“We had an Axios event the other day with Mark Cuban who was very focused on artificial intelligence and how that was going to affect the workforce,” Allen said. “What’s your take on that?”
“I think that is so far in the future, in terms of artificial intelligence taking over American jobs, I think we’re, like, so far away from that, that’s, uh... not even on my radar screen.” Mnuchin nervously said with a tight smile.
“How far away,” Allen pressed.
“Far enough that it’s...(guffaws with laughter)” Mnuchin trailed off.
“Seven more years?” Allen tried to help.
“Seven more years,” Mnuchin balked. “I think it’s 50 to 100 more years.”
And with that, Mnuchin showed himself to be completely uninformed or just a bald-faced liar. Jobs in the United States are already being taken over by automation. After all, his boss, Trump, famously crowed about his brilliant deal to save manufacturing jobs at Carrier. That deal effectively amounted to taxpayers subsidizing the automation of the factory and temporarily hanging on to some of the workers until upgrades are complete.
According to a study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, 5.6 million manufacturing jobs were lost in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010. An estimated 85 percent of those lost jobs were “actually attributable to technological change — largely automation.”
So, technology and automation have already had a big impact on American employment but what about the future? Accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP recently estimated that 38% of US jobs are at a high risk of automation by the early 2030's. Without giving a set number of years, Oxford University’s Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne published a paper in 2013 that estimated 47% of American jobs are at “high-risk” of being replaced by machines. They isolated 702 different occupations that will likely be automated.
People who actually have a clue about what’s going on were appalled. Mark Cuban, the impetus of the question, simply tweeted “Wow.” And that’s really all that needs to be said. But why stop there? Larry Irving, a former Clinton Administration official who now works in the tech sector, tweeted, “This actually is kind of frightening.” And DJ Patil, former U.S. Chief Data Scientist, suggested that Mnuchin should take a look at the White House AI report published under the Obama administration.
In the same interview, Mnuchin claimed that Trump has stopped eating McDonald’s. Maybe the two of them should actually stop into the fast food restaurant and take advantage of the convenient automated checkout.