M. SCOTT MORRIS: No job may be safe during machine age

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

Don’t waste time worrying about the future. It’s the transition from here to there that should cause the real concern.
But first, the past: I had a professor in college who liked to talk about “full unemployment.”
Dr. Pound had a sharp mind and a skinny body, and he always held a white Styrofoam coffee cup within inches of his mouth. When he laughed, his whole body shook, including that cup. I don’t recall any spills, though.
He taught a political science and technology class, and he foresaw a time when machines could do anything a human can do.
Whoa, you might be thinking, a machine can’t handle my job.
I used to think that way, too. But in the new economy, I’m forced to admit there’s a caste of people in India who could do a better job of writing this column. They’d probably charge the Mighty Daily Journal far less for the privilege.
I’m not comparing Indians to machines, but today’s outsourcing is part of that transition time I mentioned.
It’s a simple thing for someone in Mumbai to study content on NEMS360.com to get column ideas. India’s Scott Version 2.0 could pick up a phone and interview anyone in Northeast Mississippi, and it’ll sound like he’s right next door.
Technology makes that fictional – let’s hope – example possible. New tools remove borders and increase a worker’s ability to get things done.
That’s not full unemployment, but it’s a painful step in that direction for some Americans, as technology makes it economical to move jobs overseas.
IBM’s Watson, the computer that beat two of humanity’s best “Jeopardy” players, is another step toward Dr. Pound’s prediction.
Watson was taught to decipher clues in the pun-filled trivia game, which is a big leap. Computers always have been great at processing information, but processing the intricacies of human language is a four-minute-mile moment.
Scary question time:
– What am I, but a bag of bones who plays with language?
– How much longer until Scott Version 3.0?
By full unemployment, Dr. Pound meant exactly that. No job is safe as we march to the future.
People are trying to figure out how to cram medical books into Watson’s memory banks, so it can diagnose patients.
Someday, machines will build houses; others will harvest food; others will change diapers; others will (fill in the blank).
Who knows where this automated evolution will take us? It could be a wonderland or an apocalypse or something in between.
No offense to Dr. Pound, but I doubt true full unemployment is possible. Eventually, somebody will rise up to overthrow our mechanical overlords, and that’ll take old-fashioned, knuckle-busting work. What follows will be a tough transition time.
M. Scott Morris is a Daily Journal entertainment writer. Contact him at (662) 678-1589 or scott.morris@ journalinc.com.

Click video to hear audio