A great deal of evidence suggests robotics and artificial intelligence will displace huge swaths of the American workforce in the next couple decades.
But the Trump administration — which has made job creation a central focus — doesn’t seem to think it’s a problem.
On March 24, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told Axios co-founder Mike Allen that the threat of robot automation taking away jobs was “not even on our radar screen,” and that the two-decade timetable grossly exaggerates what is likely “50 to 100 more years away.”
Report after report has forecasted a big spike in unemployment if the US doesn’t take steps to help workers as they get displaced from jobs that are scooped up by robots or AI. A 2015 McKinsey report, for instance, concluded that existing technology could feasibly replace 45% of jobs right now.
Mnuchin seemed unfazed by that data.
“I’m not worried at all,” he said, later adding, “In fact, I’m optimistic.”
During his campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly encouraged companies to “Buy American, hire American.” And in his presidency, he has pledged to work with large corporations to keep jobs within US borders.
But as Business Insider’s Pedro da Costa has explained, many of the jobs Trump wants to bring back have not been shipped overseas — they have been irrevocably lost to the cheap, consistent labour of factory robots. In many industries (like telemarketing, customer service, and even fast-food service), humans can’t compete with the latest technology.
“No one should be under the illusion that millions of manufacturing jobs are coming back to America,” Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote in MIT Technology Review in November 2016.
Mnuchin also told Allen that President Trump had “perfect genes,” a lax open-door policy for cabinet members at the White House, and that his face deserved to be on the thousand-dollar bill.