The upcoming worldwide workforce reckoning that artificial intelligence is expected to bring will happen much sooner than many experts predict, the former president of Google China told CNBC on Monday.
Kai-Fu Lee, now chairman and CEO of Sinovation Ventures, believes that about half of all jobs will disappear over the next decade and be replaced with AI and the next generation of robots in the fastest period of disruption in history.
“AI, at the same time, will be a replacement for blue collar and white collar jobs,” said Lee, a renowned Chinese technologist and investor who held positions at Apple and Microsoft in addition to Alphabet‘s Google. But white collar jobs will go first, he warned.
“The white collar jobs are easier to take because they’re pure a quantitative analytical process. Reporters, traders, telemarketing, telesales, customer service, [and] analysts, there can all be replaced by a software,” he explained on “Squawk Box.” “To do blue collar, some of work requires hand-eye coordination, things that machines are not yet good enough to do.”
Lee knocked down an argument that the jobs lost will create new ones to service and program AI and robots. “Robots are clearly replacing people jobs. They’re working 24 by 7. They are more efficient. They need some programming. But one programer can program 10,000 robots.”
Besides taking jobs beyond factory floors, robots and AI are already starting to takeover some of the mundane tasks around people’s homes. Lee pointed to the Amazon Echo as an example.
“The robots don’t have to be anthropomorphized. They can just be an appliance,” he said. “The car that has autonomous driving is not going to have a humanoid person [driving]. It’s just going to be without a steering wheel.”
Lee said that while economic growth “will go dramatically up because AI can do so many things so much more faster” than humans, it’ll force everyone to rethink the practical and social impact of fewer jobs. “If a lot of people will find happiness without working, that would be a happy outcome.”