In the latest example of President Donald Trump’s cabinet being glaringly unprepared, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin just course-corrected his position on automation and its looming impact on the American economy, both in terms of manufacturing and artificial intelligence. This marks a sudden backpedal away from his assertion just two months ago that humans could rest easy for another century, as the technology required for workplace automation was still only a distant threat.
When Mnuchin insisted in March that “Automation isn’t even on our radar screen… I’m not worried at all,” and that robots would be taking jobs for another 50 to 100 years, he specifically meant that Star Wars’ R2-D2 didn’t exist yet and probably won’t for quite some time.
“There’s different views on artificial intelligence,” Mnuchin said on Wednesday while testifying in front of the House Ways and Means Committee. “I was referring to kind of like R2-D2 in Star Wars. Robotics are here.”
This pivot marks the first time a sitting Secretary of the Treasury has referenced Star Wars.
The change marks acknowledgment by Treasury Department that automation is real. In the words of Mnuchin, who also thought that Suicide Squad would be a good idea, “workers do need to be prepared” for the changing technology of the workplace that could displace a huge chunk of American workers within the next fifteen years, particularly those who earn less money.
Unfortunately, Mnuchin failed to clarify whether or not government labs would really be able to deliver an R2-D2 model within 50 years.