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Automation May Take Jobs—but AI Will Create Them

A Silicon Valley executive returns home to the rural South to see for himself the ways in which AI is affecting the local economy

Source | | KEVIN SCOTT

CHANCES ARE YOU’VE already encountered, more than a few times, truly frightening predictions about artificial intelligence and its implications for the future of humankind. The machines are coming and they want your job, at a minimum. Scary stories are easy to find in all the erudite places where the tech visionaries of Silicon Valley and Seattle, the cosmopolitan elite of New York City, and the policy wonks of Washington, DC, converge—TED talks, Davos, ideas festivals, Vanity Fair, the New YorkerThe New York Times, Hollywood films, South by Southwest, Burning Man. The brilliant innovator Elon Musk and the genius theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking have been two of the most quotable and influential purveyors of these AI predictions. AI poses “an existential threat” to civilization, Elon Musk warned a gathering of governors in Rhode Island one summer’s day.

Musk’s words are very much on my mind as the car I drive (it’s not autonomous, not yet) crests a hill in the rural southern Piedmont region of Virginia, where I was born and raised. From here I can almost see home, the fields once carpeted by lush green tobacco leaves and the roads long ago bustling with workers commuting from profitable textile mills and furniture plants. But that economy is no more. Poverty, unemployment, and frustration are high, as they are with our neighbors across the Blue Ridge Mountains in Appalachia and to the north in the Rust Belt. I am driving between Rustburg, the county seat, and Gladys, an unincorporated farming community where my mom and brother still live.

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