It's Man v. Machine on Jeopardy! this week as IBM super-robot Watson takes on former champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. At The Atlantic, we're using Watson as an occasion to think about what smart robots mean for the American worker. This is Part Two of a three-part series on the exciting and sometimes scary capabilities of artificial intelligence. Read Part One -- Anything You Can Do, Robots Can Do Better.
The conventional wisdom used to be that becoming a knowledge worker represented the best path to a prosperous future. The advent of offshoring has increasingly called this proposition into question.
Today, offshoring is impacting knowledge workers -- that is, people with software jobs -- across the board. Someone with a software job could eventually be replaced by a computer similar to the one that currently sits on his or her desk.
Jobs in fields such as radiology, accounting, tax preparation, graphic design, and especially all types of information technology are already being shipped to India and to other countries. This trend will only grow, and where offshoring appears, automation is often likely to eventually follow.
IF ROBOTS CAN PLAY CHESS...
The automation of software jobs is tied closely to the field of artificial intelligence. To gain some insight into how artificial intelligence works in the real world, let's consider computer chess. In 1989, Garry Kasparov, the world chess champion faced off against a special computer called Deep Thought. Deep Thought was designed at Carnegie Mellon University and IBM. Kasparov easily defeated the machine in a two game match.