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Máquinas frente a humanos: ¿dónde está el límite?

Ilustración original: Freepik

Ilustración original: Freepik

Una serie de estudios ha puesto por delante la teoría de que el trabajo producido por humanos será sustituido por máquinas cada vez más inteligentes, lo que conducirá al ser humano a la irrelevancia. ¿Quién no ha oído hablar de los coches que se autoconducen, las máquinas que diagnostican enfermedades o incluso los robots que identifican emociones? ¿Es el progreso de la inteligencia artificial el fin de la inteligencia humana? En otras palabras, ¿será el último invento que tendrá que realizar el ser humano una máquina más inteligente que el más listo de los humanos, para que ésta pueda seguir inventando a futuro?

Aunque muchos de estos estudios tienen visos de ciencia y economía-ficción, todos ponen de manifiesto las implicaciones que estos fenómenos pueden tener para el devenir de nuestras sociedades. Así, por ejemplo, dependiendo de si las máquinas son capaces de sustituir solo al trabajo poco calificado, calificado o todo el trabajo, se darán consecuencias distributivas distintas, pero en todos los casos presumiblemente de gran magnitud, por lo que los países deben ir preparándose. Hasta ahora, la máquina ha sido capaz de sustituir un montón de personas en trabajos rutinarios llevando a algunas profesiones casi a su extinción. ¿Quién se acuerda hoy de los operadores telefónicos o los mecanógrafos? Pero lo que pronostican Brynjolfsson y A. McAfee en su último e influyente libro La segunda era de las máquinas es que este proceso se acelerará a futuro. Así, no solo personas con trabajos rutinarios y/o de baja calificación, sino muchos trabajadores calificados (traductores, analistas de datos, gestores…), serán potencialmente reemplazados por máquinas.

Existe un vigoroso debate acerca de cuán factible es ese escenario (recomiendo esta interesantísima discusión de expertos sobre el futuro del trabajo en la era de las máquinas). Un aspecto importante es si el hecho de que el sector de la computación esté aumentando su capacidad de forma exponencial se traducirá en cambios en el agregado de la economía. Un ejemplo histórico ayuda a entender este fenómeno: a finales del siglo XIX, la producción de velas era un sector importante para la economía, mientras que cien años después la producción de iluminación se convirtió en un sector con un peso casi irrelevante. ¿Por qué? Porque la capacidad de iluminar ha crecido muchísimo pero la demanda de productos de iluminación no se ha incrementado al mismo ritmo. Ese fue un proceso que también sufrió –y en muchos países sigue sufriendo– la agricultura. Dado que el sector agrícola es capaz de producir mucho más que en el pasado, se necesita menos gente para alimentar a las sociedades, gente que puede trabajar en otros sectores. De acuerdo con estos ejemplos, la pregunta entonces es si el sector de la computación tendrá más o menos relevancia en el futuro.

Relacionado con lo anterior, otro aspecto importante a considerar es qué tan rápido están ocurriendo estas transformaciones y qué peso tienen ya en la economía en su conjunto. Si bien los ejemplos son muy sugerentes, los datos en el agregado no muestran todavía un cambio importante en el crecimiento de la productividad, quizá porque aún suponen una parte pequeña de las economías. Qué tan rápido ocurra el cambio a futuro determinará la capacidad de las sociedades de ir ajustándose a estos procesos.

Finalmente, quizá el aspecto más importante a resaltar y difícil de predecir es hasta qué punto las máquinas serán complementarias o sustitutivas del trabajo y para qué tipos de trabajo. Hasta la fecha, la inteligencia artificial ha sido capaz de suplir muchos trabajos rutinarios, pero no ha podido sustituir tantos trabajos en el sector servicios (salud, cuidado de infantes y adultos mayores, maestros y profesores) cuyo peso relativo en empleo ha crecido. Es fácil imaginar un futuro donde las máquinas produzcan otros productos, pero ¿podrán cuidar a un niño, a un anciano, o enseñar? Asimismo, hay todo un grupo de profesiones que se han beneficiado mucho del desarrollo de la computación. Es muy probable que la emergencia de maneras más poderosas de computación suponga la aparición de nuevas ocupaciones ahora inimaginables que supongan nuevas fuentes de empleo. ¿Quiénes se podrán beneficiar?

Sin duda, se trata de preguntas muy importantes. Quizá una máquina las podrá contestar pronto.


Esta columna fue originalmente publicada en el Blog Factor Trabajo del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo BID.

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