As my new Christmas tradition, I re-watched The Apartment last night.
It’s a love story, set in an insurance company’s head office in 1960, around Christmas time. Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Billy Wilder’s best film ever, winner of 5 Academy Awards. A great role for Edie Adams, whom history records as Mrs. Ernie Kovacs.
It’s important today because of that setting. Hundreds of middle-class workers are lined up at desks in a vast bullpen, chained to typewriters and adding machines. There’s no hint in the script that these jobs are all about to disappear, replaced by computers. What will happen to these people, you wonder?
We know what happened to them. They were fine. Most found new work. They made more money and provided more value. We know this because they’re our grandparents.
This is important to remember as we enter 2024 and the peak of AI Panic. You’re all about to lose your jobs, we’re told, replaced by software. You’ll be driving an Uber by this time next year.
I’m Calling Bullshit on that.
It’s bullshit because, right now, we’re in an AI hiring boom. It takes more than fast machines to launch and (especially) manage an AI application. It takes people, the same writers and marketers and programmers AI hucksters tell us are about to lose their jobs to the technology.
It’s bullshit because Garbage In means Garbage Out. Computers can’t control their training data. People must do it. Without good training data, the output of any AI program is garbage.
It’s bullshit because all machines, whether mechanical or software-based, exist to serve people. That’s you and me, folks. Computers don’t tire, but computers aren’t people. The value created by AI will go somewhere and, while you may think it’s all going to Elon Musk, it’s not. It’s going to flow through the real economy, creating new industries dedicated to our comfort, industries that don’t even exist now.
This assumes we let that happen. We could blow it all up in war. We could waste the value on gas engines that destroy the ecosystem. We could choose to give it to a few Gigabillionaires to play with.
But we won’t. Whatever you think of the world of 1960, our lives are longer and healthier. We live with much more personal freedom and comfort than our grandparents did.
How our lives are lived, it turns out, is up to those doing the living. Now shut up and deal.