Treasury Secretary Mnuchin sees no threat for workers from AI

In this Feb. 14, 2017 file photo, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks to the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Though Steven Mnuchin, the newly appointed Secretary of the Treasury, has only been in office for a little over a month, he has already made headlines across the nation. Just last Friday, Mnuchin, in a conversation with news company Axios, began to turn heads after stating that he saw no reason to be concerned about the prospect of artificial intelligence (AI) taking over American jobs, as he doesn’t think it will happen for “50 to 100 more years”. Unfortunately for Mnuchin, it seems he must have gotten his information from those “alternative facts” that the Trump campaign is so fond of, because the threat of AI taking over American jobs is not only imminent, it has already begun.

Machines have been advancing in their capabilities to do human jobs as long as they have been around. In fact, that is the point of most machines anyway; to make a human’s life easier. When cars were invented, horse-and-buggy were not needed as much. Self-driving cars are no longer a thing of the past and will soon be steadily available throughout the world. According to an article from the New York Times, between 1962 and 2005, roughly 400,000 people in the U.S. steel industry lost their jobs. That’s about 75 percent of the entire workforce.

However, due to the development of new technology, these jobs were no longer needed and were never replaced. Even in these diverse examples it is plain to see that throughout time, machines have always been replacing humans at something. As they continue to become more advanced, this phenomenon will only continue.

Unfortunately, many people are not familiar with the extent to which machine learning and artificial intelligence can interfere with our workplace. Instead, they prefer to focus on other perceived problems in the workforce, like immigration. During his campaign, President Trump made it clear that he planned to come down hard on the problem of illegal immigration in an effort to supply American people with more jobs.

However, Trump, and his opponent for that matter, failed to mention anything about technological advancements and automation playing a role in this issue. Which, as it turns out, it does, and its effect on the workforce is far larger than that of immigration. In 2015, a study from Ball State University found that “around 88 percent of factory job loss in the U.S. was attributable to increased productivity—via improvements to things such as machinery and automation—not offshoring or trade, which played a much smaller role”. Instead of focusing efforts into stopping the immigration problem in order to preserve jobs, it might be important for Trump and his cabinet members to identify the proper cause of the problem before jumping in headfirst to fix it.

When looking into the future, it is important to remember that technology will continue to advance rapidly. Experts in AI have recently estimated that within the next 15 years, over 50 percent of trucks driven on the roads will be self-driven. This means an estimated 1.75 million jobs will be lost within this industry, and there are many others that will suffer similar fates.

Now of course, this does not mean that all technological advancements are negative. Today’s society was built on these advancements, and halting them completely would eliminate any possibility of advancing our world. It is important to keep in mind, that in a world such as ours—which is so dedicated to moving forward and becoming more scientifically progressive—this loss of jobs is unpreventable, in some respects. However, with proper planning, it can be minimized.

But this planning must come from someone who has the actual issue on their radar, which Secretary Mnuchin clearly doesn’t. Mnuchin has not only failed to create a plan to help guide our nation through these impending changes, but has altogether failed to see that a strategy is necessary at all. Although his time in office has only just begun, if he intends to spend it with his head in the clouds, believing that this change is not already in motion, then we are in for a rough four years.


Emma Hungaski is an opinion contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at emma.hungaski@uconn.edu.