Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian on robots taking over jobs: 'There is no way a robot is replacing my barber'

  • Reddit and Initialized Capital co-founder Alexis Ohanian talked to Business Insider at Ignition 2018 about what a future of artificial intelligence could look like.
  • He says there will be “massive unemployment” during the transitional period, but thinks it will benefit us in the long-term.
  • Watch the video above to hear more about Ohanian’s take on which jobs will be replaced and which ones will survive.

Alyson Shontell: One of the things that you said you think is the biggest opportunity for people right now, is finding a solution for jobs that are being automated. What do you think that solution looks like? It’s a huge problem to tackle.

Alexis Ohanian: It’s a big one. Every 2020 presidential candidate I talk to, or aspiring one, this is the chart that I drill in. I’ve been tweeting about this a lot lately, but it’s the one about routine work and non-routine work and how the non-routine work jobs are the ones that continue to grow, whether it’s software engineer, you know, typically white collar or barber, typically blue collar. Those are the jobs robots aren’t going to mess with. Cause trust me… There’s no way a robot is replacing my barber. Between the creativity, the comedy, the therapy, like, T-800 is not doing that, alright?

Those are the skills that are really valuable for the next decade and beyond to come. And so I think part of it is branding. I think part of it is telling a generation maybe college isn’t what you should be doing for that higher ed, maybe it’s the trades. We have plumbing jobs and welding jobs that are in demand right now that are not going away that are actually great paying jobs. We’ve basically got a generation looking toward a ton of student loan debt and a history degree that won’t necessarily get them a job when really we should be coaching them to say, “Hey, look. There are other fields where there are directly applicable skills that are gonna be valuable even in the AI future.”

And then I think the other part is us thinking as a society, how we are… How we’re gonna handle this transition, because I do think long term it will make our lives better, but in the short term it will be massive unemployment. All those jobs I was just talking about, retail, like I had a CompUSA that… Obviously CompUSA is gone, but the retail world is going to look very different in five and certainly in ten years when most of those jobs are automated, and that is a better shopping experience for all of us, but it means a ton of jobs are gone.

Food service is gonna look drastically different in five to ten years and that’s a net positive, I do believe, for us, but we’re talking about tens of millions of people in aggregate in the United States right now and I don’t think we’ve got any real plan. So I think the private sector is still doing a great job. We’re particularly interested in backing entrepreneurs, doing businesses that humans are uniquely good at, and then turning them into cyborgs. Basically augmenting them using software. So things that require empathy, things that require creativity.

There’s a company called Papa, which is doing on demand grandkids. Loneliness is a real epidemic for the elderly and this is a way for, usually college students, it doesn’t have to be, to make great money spending time just… conversing with or helping someone who is elderly do errands. And this is actually in tremendous demand because health plans realise how much value this provides to those people who are lonely, who need support. And that’s another thing that robots are not easily, not gonna do anytime soon. I think that’s where more innovation needs to happen and we’re seeing it start but we need more of it.

Shontell: Yeah, I think so, maybe some day a robot will be able to have empathy like a human can but, that’s at least farther off on the horizon.

Ohanian: Yeah, I, I’m also biased, my sister’s a nurse, and the test I always run is could a robot actually do her job and the answer is always no. I still have, I have no belief that if a robot can get to the point of doing the kind of work that a nurse does, as well as put up with the bull— a nurse does. Then that robot will make that decision at that point that, yes, it is now capable of enslaving us all. Because the work that professions like that do are things that I just don’t believe a robot will ever do.

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