Treasury Secretary Mnuchin draws one-word response from Mark Cuban after comments on robots taking jobs

Maybe U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is a robot.

It’s hard to imagine another explanation, given his statement that the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on jobs is not on his “radar screen” because the problem is 50 to 100 years away.

Either he’s misdirecting us to allow his robot brethren to harvest human jobs while we’re looking elsewhere, or he’s received insufficient data inputs.

Come to think of it, it may be the latter, and he may not be a machine after all — but rather just another slippery government official.

Mnuchin made the comments in an interview published March 24 by news website Axios.

“In terms of artificial intelligence taking over American jobs, I think we’re so far away from that … (it’s) not even on my radar screen,” Mnuchin said. “I think it’s 50 or 100 more years.”

Interestingly, the Treasury Secretary’s comments roughly coincided with release of a Pricewaterhouse Coopers report saying 38 percent of U.S. jobs could be at risk of automation within about 15 years.

The question isn’t whether AI and automation will eliminate many jobs, it’s whether, as during the Industrial Revolution and America’s mid-20th century factory-automation boom, the new technology will create as many or more entirely new jobs, PwC reported.

“Will this just have the same effects as past technological leaps – short term disruption more than offset by long term economic gains – or is this something more fundamental in terms of taking humans out of the loop not just in manufacturing and routine service sector jobs, but more broadly across the economy?” the report said.

Eventually, it’s likely that AI and automation will lead to “broadly similar overall rates of employment for human workers, although with different distributions across industry sectors and types of jobs than now,” according to PwC.

But whether that happens depends on people like Mnuchin, the report would tend to suggest.

“The government, working with employers and education providers, should invest more in the types of education and training that will be most useful to people in this increasingly automated world,” PwC said. “Central and local government bodies also need to support digital sectors that can generate new jobs, for example through place-based strategies centered around university research centers, science parks and other enablers of business growth.”

Mnuchin’s view drew strong reactions from high-profile folks in tech.

“I’m dumbfounded,” said Amy Webb, technology professor at the NYU Stern School of Business and CEO at the Future Today Institute. “If Mnuchin had done any previous reading or learning about #AI, he couldn’t have uttered those ridiculous words this morning.”

Billionaire investor Mark Cuban, who this month predicted that the world’s first trillionaire will make that fortune by applying AI, expressed his opinion on Mnuchin’s comments with one word, in boldface: “wow” — this from a man who in January tweeted his approval of Mnuchin during his Senate confirmation hearing.

Over at The Atlantic magazine, Mnuchin’s take on AI and robots was attributed to him supporting his boss.

“His response seems intended to further an increasingly politicized dilemma: who, or what, is responsible for taking jobs away from American workers,” the magazine reported. “President Trump spent the better part of a year convincing American voters that it’s offshoring and immigrants that are responsible for the decline of certain industries and the loss of jobs that have come along with it.

“This narrative persists despite the fact that research has shown it not to be the case. A 2015 study from Ball State University found that around 88 percent of factory job loss in the U.S. was attributable to increased productivity — via improvements to things such as machinery and automation — not offshoring or trade, which played a much smaller role.”


Photo: U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin speaks during a press conference at the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting in Baden-Baden, southern Germany, on March 18, 2017. (Thomas Kienzle/AFP/Getty Images)


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