Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says artificial intelligence is "so far in the future" that it's "not even on my radar screen." He says we won't have to worry about how it affects the workforce for "50 or 100 more years."
Mnuchin made his remarks to Mike Allen of Axios, in a moment caught on video that you can watch here:
Steve Mnuchin is not concerned one bit with AI and automation. pic.twitter.com/VvEooCoAbf— Axios (@axios) March 24, 2017
In fairness to Mnuchin, the question was specifically about artificial intelligence, not robots. It's a fine distinction, but an important one — while robots that can perform repetitive tasks have been in wide industrial use for decades now, artificial intelligence is a class of software that can "learn" and let machines do more sophisticated jobs.
In fact, in that video, neither Mnuchin nor Allen say the word "robot." And while it's undeniable that factories and even some entry-level jobs like fast-food cashiers are being replaced by robots of varying kinds, we're not quite at the point where artificial intelligence is "smart" enough to replace humans at wide scales.
But even if you account for that distinction, there's lots of evidence to suggest that Mnuchin is way off base.
The AI revolution is already here
In December 2016, the Obama Administration issued a report indicating that as many as 47% of all American jobs could be at risk from artificial intelligence in the next two decades. As artificial intelligence improves, we're going to see ever-smarter machines do everything from drive trucks to scanning warehouses for inventory.
As AI software gets better, it can perform more delicate tasks, too, including coffee-making and staple-removing. Even those jobs on the factory assembly line previously held by humans can now be performed by robots, with Foxconn recently replacing 60,000 workers with machines.
Top thinkers, including professor Stephen Hawking, have theorized that the disruption could be enough to completely decimate the middle class. Hawking has said that AI-powered machines will take many different kinds of jobs, with "only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining."
Which is why Mnuchin's remarks have stunned many in the tech community, with Mark Cuban tweeting only "Wow" in response.