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ISR-affiliated Professor Emeritus Ben Shneiderman (CS/UMIACS) will participate in a special program at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Molly Smith Study, Washington, DC, on Sunday Aug.12, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

He will be speaking as a Dialogue Starter as part of an Arena Civil Dialogue titled “The Robots Are Coming.”

The Arena Civil Dialogues series provides an opportunity for people in the D.C. metro area to engage in civil discourse about social and political issues, demonstrating that people of diverse viewpoints can have fruitful dialogues with each other. The conversations discuss topics related to current events. While the Dialogue Starters will begin the conversation, most of the time will be dedicated to discussion from the participants.

“The Robots Are Coming” deals with social questions related to the increasing capabilities and ubiquity robots. The conversation will deal with questions such as:

•  Will robots take more of our jobs?
•  Will robots outsmart people?
•  Can robots start wars?

Joining Shneiderman as Dialogue Starters are Jared Bernstein from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; Molly Kinder of New America, Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch and Roman Yampolskly from the University of Louisville.

Shneiderman writes, “As you’ll guess, I think automation is largely a positive force, which increases productivity, lowers costs, and raises living standards. Automation expands the demand for services, thereby raising employment, which is what has happened at Amazon and Fedex.

“Yes, automation is disruptive, but human creative capabilities will create more new jobs, as it has during the agricultural, industrial, technology, and medical revolutions.  Gutenberg’s printing press reduced employment for scribes, but the explosion of publication, readers, and writers brought many benefits.  Similarly, weaving looms expanded the market and employment in the textile industry,  while bank machines increased services and employment in banking.  Increasing automation in medical care contributes to better healthcare and expanded employment.  Overall, increasing levels of automation are correlated with lower costs, which lead to expanded demand and improved services, thereby increasing employment.

“Our job as technology developers is to ensure that automation and robots are as safe as possible, while working to promote equitable sharing of the benefits.  But even more importantly, we have to remember that human creative capabilities are in a different class from the modest but useful tools such as deep learning and artificial intelligence.”

“My position is contrary to those who believe that robots and artificial intelligence will lead to widespread unemployment,” Shneiderman says, “so I expect a spirited discussion.”

Arena Civil Dialogues are free events that are prone to filling quickly. If you would like to attend, it is easy to register here on the Arena Stage website.



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August 2, 2018


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