Here’s an article I published at TheBestSchools.org in April 2017 on the challenge of artificial intelligence to meaningful human work. I’m reprinting it here:
In the last days of the Obama administration, on December 20, 2016, the White House published a white paper (no pun intended) titled “Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy.” Listed among the contributors were John Holdren, the President’s science advisor, as well as world-class experts in economics, technology, and domestic policy. This paper was a big deal.
Its upshot was that advances in artificial intelligence (especially machine learning) threaten to phase out as many as 50 percent of U.S. jobs over the next 20 years, and that this occurrence will so disrupt the economy that it will require a vigorous multi-pronged governmental response, ranging from improved education to increased social safety nets. MIT Technology Review as well as Wired picked up on this white paper and underscored its concerns. The title of the Wiredpiece captured the worry for the future: “The AI Threat Isn’t Skynet. It’s the End of the Middle Class.” (Skynet is, of course, the malevolent conscious artificial intelligence intent on enslaving and destroying humanity in the Terminator films.)
Threats to jobs from technology have been with us since the Industrial Revolution. But in reading the White House paper, one gets the sense “this time is different.” An extended box on page 20 titled “The End of Work?” (the question mark is especially troubling) raises the possibility of AI not just phasing out some jobs but instead phasing out all human work period, rendering human work passé because, if the promise of AI comes true, everything that we can do machines will eventually do better. But even leaving aside such a grand dystopian vision (which these days is promoted with a smile by singularity and transhumanist enthusiasts), the paper argues convincingly that many jobs as we know them now won’t be around much longer. The case study it presents about AVs (automated vehicles) and the human drivers soon to be displaced is hard to discount. [Read more…] about The Future of Meaningful Work