Teaching a machine to think like a human is the promise of artificial intelligence (AI). Using that narrow definition, it naturally follows that AI's future could ultimately include the idling of countless millions of workers who are gainfully employed today.
These concerns about job loss are logical and unavoidable, but in my opinion, they are as unfounded as they are provocative. While someday in the distant future AI systems may start to approach the holy grail of emulating the thought process and analytical capabilities of a human, today's capabilities put AI squarely in the category of a beneficial, time-saving tool rather than a human replacement.
Beginning with the Industrial Revolution and continuing into modern times, machinery has replaced workers. Automated looms disrupted the textile industry, and mass production disrupted the automobile industry. Desktop computing and word processing cut short many stenographer's careers, and other tools such as email and voicemail have imperiled letter carriers and administrative assistants.
But AI is different. AI enables the creation of work products that often cannot be replicated by any countless number of able-bodied humans. How many workers would it take to approximate the search capabilities of Google's AI algorithms? What personal shopper is so gifted that he or she could build bundles and offers with the targeted appeal that Amazon does a thousand times per second? What linguist is well-versed enough to understand the native tongue of nearly any soul on this earth?
The question is not how many people will lose their job as a result ..