Top Israeli researcher: Robots could take over most jobs within 30 years
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'If machines are capable of doing almost any work humans can do, what will humans do?

Top Israeli researcher: Robots could take over most jobs within 30 years

Society faces its biggest challenge in finding meaning in a life mostly run by machines, warns Rice University's Moshe Vardi

A humanoid robot at a demonstration in Tokyo, Japan. Illustrative photo (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
A humanoid robot at a demonstration in Tokyo, Japan. Illustrative photo (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

A renowned Israeli professor of computer science says robots could take over most human jobs within the next 30 years, leaving mankind with a lot of free time and little to do.

Moshe Vardi, of Houston, Texas’s Rice University, told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington on Saturday that society’s major challenge in the coming decades will be to find meaning in a mostly automated life.

“We are approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task,” Vardi said. “Robots are doing more and more jobs that people used to do. Pharmacists, prison guards, boning chicken, bartending, more and more jobs we’re able to mechanize them.

With robots eliminating many middle-class jobs, Vardi said unemployment could rise beyond 50 percent.

“I believe that society needs to confront this question before it is upon us: If machines are capable of doing almost any work humans can do, what will humans do? …The question I want to put forward is, ‘Does the technology we are developing ultimately benefit mankind?'”

Vardi’s warning quickly made international headlines on Saturday.

While many may relish the thought of an existence with few work hours and copious amounts of leisure time, Vardi said he was not at all certain this would be healthy to the human race.

“A typical answer is that if machines will do all our work, we will be free to pursue leisure activities,” he said. “I do not find this a promising future, as I do not find the prospect of leisure-only life appealing. That seems to me a dystopia. I believe that work is essential to human well-being.

Moshe Vardi, professor of computer science at Rice University, Houston, Texas (YouTube screenshot)
Moshe Vardi, professor of computer science at Rice University, Houston, Texas (YouTube screenshot)

“Humanity is about to face perhaps its greatest challenge ever, which is finding meaning in life after the end of ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread’…We need to rise to the occasion and meet this challenge before human labor becomes obsolete.

Vardi has won three IBM Outstanding Innovation Awards, as well as a Gödel Prize for outstanding papers in the area of theoretical computer science. He chaired Rice University’s Computer Science Department between 1994-2002. He has authored over 400 technical papers in his field.

In December, The Times of Israel reported that China will invest $20 million in Israeli robot technology, in the hope that the tech Israel develops will help catapult its economy. The Israeli Robotics Association signed an agreement with a coalition of Chinese investors and the city of Guangzhou, one of China’s biggest industrial centers, to build a robotics R&D center in Israel dedicated to developing robot tech that China will be able to use to automate and modernize its massive industrial base.

Zvi Shiller, a professor at the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mechatronics Faculty of Engineering Ariel University and chairman of the Israel Robotics Association, said Israel is one of the most advanced countries in the world in robot development and research, “but we don’t have a lot of opportunity to deploy that technology because our economy is too small.

“China is a major opportunity for us, and manufacturers there are very motivated to take advantage of our technology. There are thousands of factories that will be interested in the technology developed at the Institute. It’s like a second Industrial Revolution – and Israeli technology is at the center of it.”

Economists and policy-makers are increasingly aware of the problems posed by advances in artificial intelligence, which render humans obsolete in many fields.

Scientists and tech experts — including professor Stephen Hawking, entrepreneur Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak — have warned of the dangers of autonomous robots in the battlefield.

AP and David Shamah contributed to this report.

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