Why do we still need jobs? After all, if AI technologies can deliver most of the goods and services that we need at less cost, why should we spend our precious time laboring?
Millions of jobs will fall victim to automation and not just low skilled professions but also jobs related to high-skilled professions such as law, medicine and accounting. This article mentions two different points of views:
Optimistic: it rests on the fact that there are some things even the smartest machines will never do and we won´t have major problems as long as governments rise to the challenge of equipping workers “with the right skills” to prepare them for future market needs.
Pessimistic: technological change has, in fact, already been displacing workers for three decades, accounting for an estimated 80% of the job losses in US manufacturing. There is a threat of a “‘good-jobless future,’ in which a growing number of workers can no longer earn a middle-class income, regardless of their education and skills.”
Containing income inequality is in fact one of the primary challenges of the digital age. One possible remedy is a tax on robots, an idea first proposed by Mady Delvaux of the European Parliament and later endorsed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Another option, notes Stephen Groff of the Asian Development Bank, is to direct workers toward fields that will not necessary fall prey to automation, such as communication and negotiation.
Another proposal is a sort of “job mortgage,” where firms “with a future need for certain skills would become a kind of sponsor, involving potential future job offers, to a person willing to acquire those skills.” Also, the author mentions that the workers of tomorrow will require training in ethics, to help them navigate a world in which the value of human beings can no longer be taken for granted.
A New Approach to the Problematic
Capital growth is already outpacing job growth. Capital, land, and labor were the three pillars of the industrial age, but digitalization and the so-called platform economy have devalorized land, and the AI revolution now threatens to view labor as obsolete.
New business models might emerge to monetize platforms at no cost to consumers. It is already happening, billions of people around the world now use platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Wikipedia for free. As DeLong notes, “More than ever before, we are producing commodities that contribute to social welfare through use value rather than market value.” In such a scenario, a job would become a luxury or hobby rather than a necessity; plenty of people already do not make a living from selling their labor.
It will require not just new economic models, but also new forms of governance and legal frameworks. We would also have to focus on developing ethical protocols because nowadays AI already presents ethical dilemmas, for example one of them is whether driverless cars “should be programmed to swerve to avoid hitting a child running across the road, even if that will put their passengers at risk.” A software error could have disastrous consequences. We would have to determine where and when AI should and should not be deployed, we will have to decide on appropriate forms of capital ownership under such conditions, and we will have to create new incentives for people to contribute to society. In other words, it will require an entirely new socioeconomic system, one that we will either start shaping or allow shaping us.
Sami Mahroum. (2018). The AI Debate We Need. From Project Syndicate. Website: https://www.project-syndicate.org/onpoint/the-ai-debate-we-need-by-sami-mahroum-2018-02