The co-founder of Siri says there's one important job that must never be replaced by technology

A robot pours popcorn from a cooking pot into a bowl at the Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the University of Bremen, Germany. (INGO WAGNER/AFP/Getty Images)

Adam Cheyer has an amazing resume even by Silicon Valley standards. Among his many achievements, he was a co-founder of Siri, which Apple acquired and is now ubiquitous on iPhones, founding member of Change.org and is now at Samsung as a co-founder of Viv with a mission to create the next generation of smart voice assistants.

But even he admits the rise of artificial intelligence, if it happens too rapidly, could leave some parts of society redundant in the new economy.

“Is it possible that 30% of people are dramatically displaced for a while and what does that mean?” Cheyer said at the Samsung Developers Conference in San Francisco.

“Will technology automate human job functions? Absolutely. It always has. There are many, many cases. In general, it’s good. Toll booth operators – is that how we want people to spend their entire career? Maybe not – put a machine in there and then they’ll have to retrain, but maybe they’ll lead more rewarding lives.”

The inevitability of job displacement, according to Cheyer, meant the pace of change was the important factor that would determine whether certain sections of the populace would feel marginalised or “left behind”.

“Change can happen surprisingly quickly… It is, for me, just a rate of change question. Is it going to happen”? Do we have to worry about it imminently? Probably not.”

Creative industries are not protected from automation

Cheyer also told the conference that the belief creative industries would be sheltered from technology-driven redundancy was false.

“You think ‘A computer couldn’t do music. A computer couldn’t do art.’. Well actually, if you haven’t paid attention, there are pretty surprisingly good examples [of computer-generated works],” he said.

He cited the example of Emily Howell, which is a computer-driven composer of classical music.

“I’m not a classical artist – but I find [the music] beautiful and novel, and they’re made by machines… I can’t tell the difference. And in art, there’s examples of that too.”

While admitting some people immediately have a negative reaction to computer-generated creative works, the AI expert questioned whether the prejudice would exist if the observer was not told whether a work was made by a human or artificial intelligence.

One field that Cheyer did advocate for a mandatory human presence when teaching.

“When it comes to education, I’m somewhat of a luddite. I’m always a little but sceptical about shiny iPads and… the latest [graphical] game,” he said.

“You learn when you’re motivated to learn. And one of the best factors of learning is an inspiring teacher – you look into the eyes of someone who lights it up in you, and then you learn. All the technology and whizzy, shiny whatever, is not necessarily going to help you.”

Samsung acquired Cheyer’s artificial intelligence startup Viv last year, then announced at this week’s conference that the technology would be integrated into the next version of its voice assistant, Bixby 2.0.

The journalist travelled to San Francisco courtesy of Samsung Australia.

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