The chief technology officer at Microsoft joins a long line of experts describing how artificial intelligence and automation will make our lives better, provided we avoid the pitfalls.
Scott opens with a general assessment of the AI landscape: “There are two prevailing stories about AI: “for low- and middle-skill workers, we hear a grim tale of steadily increasing job destruction; for knowledge workers and the professional class, we hear an idyllic tale of enhanced productivity and convenience.” After an autobiographical section—poor but brilliant country boy leaves his beloved Virginia, succeeds dramatically in Silicon Valley, and vows to give back—the author discusses how he and others are trying to do just that. The brutal fact is that San Francisco, New York, Boston, and Southern California lead America in job creation, and the runners-up are all urban, as well. Rural America is entering its second generation of depression, with businesses closing, unemployment rising, and the usual ills of crime, drug abuse, and infrastructure that’s crumbling or, in the case of broadband, inadequate. Scott clearly describes efforts to bring in high-tech jobs that fail because locals lack the education to qualify. He excels in describing the problem and makes a convincing case that AI, a rare “platform technology” with positive feedback loops that “get better faster over time,” will continue to change our lives. Though the author’s heart is in the right place, his solutions, reasonable and presented with enthusiasm, break little new ground. Scott has no doubt that returning prosperity to America’s heartland requires improving its quality of life by improving infrastructure, failing schools, and deficient health care and housing. That would seem to require government action, but, except for generous tax breaks, Scott focuses on entrepreneurship and local action, illustrating with stories of individuals and organizations who have taken matters into their own hands and succeeded.
Another thoughtful technocrat worries about AI and concludes that things will work out.