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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 5)

All Headlines 06:56 January 05, 2017

AlphaGo attack
'In 8 years, 7 in 10 jobs replaceable by robots'

It's not a matter of 20 or 30 or 50 years. Only in eight years, robots will be able to replace over 70 percent of the jobs held by humans. In a doomsday scenario, mass layoffs of an unprecedented scale may ensue, causing an untold number of people to become jobless in the age of, whichever you choose, artificial intelligence (AI), robots or surplus humans.

More urgently than ever before, rules of engagement between humans and robots should be laid out.

They should include not just Asimov's style of the master-slave contract but clearly define their respective roles, and help retrain and subsidize people who will be left behind in transition.

In the doomsday report issued by the state-affiliated Korea Labor Institute, by 2025, 16.3 million out of 26.59 million Koreans currently employed can be replaced by robots and AI technology. That accounts for 70.6 percent of the working population. More immediately, the report says last year the replaceable rate was estimated at 12.5 percent and, by 2020, the rate will go up to 41.3 percent.

According to the report, the most vulnerable jobs involve simple labor such as janitors, food delivery, movie ticket sales, dairy farm worker and the like. In contrast, jobs requiring expertise such as accountants, investment consultants or lawyers are seen to be relatively secure in the coming robot age. This can be attributable to the way the survey was conducted -- asking 21 experts to forecast the progress to be made by robots in 44 areas such as reading, writing, speaking, negotiating skill and creativity. The robots scored, out of a perfect seven points or the rate of complete substitution, 2.76 in 2016, 3.57 in 2020 and 4.29 in 2025. Accounts, lawyers and investment consultants may not be as safe as the survey indicates, however, considering the rapid progress in emulating and surpassing human intelligence. Remember AlphaGo, a learning machine that beat the world's top go player soundly last March. Already available are versions of an AI-based financial consultant, meaning that machines will soon breathe down the collective neck of those now in the safe categories.

Issac Asimov already laid out the pledge of allegiance by robots to humans through many of his futuristic books. That is no longer a matter of fiction but rather a looming reality. Now, conspicuously absent is the roadmap by which to deal with a possible tsunami of jobless people in a scale that may dwarf that of the Great Depression -- helping maintain their dignity and securing their livelihood.

Among potential choices is the introduction of a universal basic income by which the state guarantees the livelihood of its people in such means as a wage payment in return for no work. Perhaps the most important thing is to help change the conventional wisdom -- no work no pay.
(END)

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