In as soon as 15 years, 40 percent of the world’s jobs could be done by machines, according to one of the world’s foremost experts on artificial intelligence. Kai Fu Lee, a pioneer in AI and venture capitalist based in China makes this prediction in a Scott Pelley report about AI on the next edition of 60 Minutes, Sunday, Jan. 13 at 7 p.m., ET/PT on CBS.
“AI will increasingly replace repetitive jobs, not just for blue-collar work, but a lot of white-collar work,” says Lee. “Chauffeurs, truck drivers, anyone who does driving for a living– their jobs will be disrupted more in the 15-25 year time frame,” he tells Pelley. “Many jobs that seem a little bit complex, chef, waiter, a lot of things will become automated … stores … restaurants, and altogether in 15 years, that’s going to displace about 40 percent of the jobs in the world.” When pressed by Pelley about 40 percent of jobs being displaced, Lee says the jobs will be, “displaceable.”
“I believe [AI] is going to change the world more than anything in the history of mankind. More than electricity,” says Lee.
One of the biggest changes will be in education. Lee is financing companies that are installing AI systems in remote classrooms across China to improve learning for students far from the country’s growing cities. The AI-system is being designed to gauge student interest and intelligence by subject.
Could such artificial intelligence identify the geniuses of the world? “That’s possible in the future,” says Lee. “It can also create a student profile and know where the student got stuck so the teacher can personalize the areas in which the student needs help.”
Those students will be facing an uncertain future with 40 percent of the world’s current jobs displaceable. “What does that do to the fabric of society?” asks Pelley. “Well, in some sense, there is the human wisdom that always overcomes these technological revolutions,” Lee says. “The invention of the steam engine, the sewing machine, electricity, have all displaced jobs. We’ve gotten over it. The challenge of AI is this 40 percent, whether it is 15 or 25 years, is coming faster than the previous revolutions.”
Pelley traveled to China for this story, where 70 percent of the 1.4 billion Chinese use smartphones, often to make routine transactions including fast food purchases, bike rentals and bill paying. The phone use creates a torrent of data for China’s tech companies. Lee explained that endless supply of information is the rocket fuel for AI in China. “China clearly has an advantage,” says Lee of the potential to develop AI.
But the U.S. still enjoys a technological leadership that will keep it competitive with the Chinese, at least for the near-future. “The top prominent researchers are still mostly American, so I think it’s about 50/50 for the next five years,” Lee tells Pelley.