For centuries, technological innovation has created jobs and improved standards of living. Artificial intelligence might change that. For starters, AI-driven automation is not going to treat workers equally. A recent White House called Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence acknowledges that AI could make low- and medium-skill jobs unnecessary, and widen the wage gap between lower- and higher-educated workers.
The good news is that policymakers and technology experts are thinking about this, and instituting plans aimed at avoiding the “Robots are going to take all of our jobs!” doomsday scenario. Academics and industry practitioners discussed AI’s job impact at the White House Frontiers Conference last week. And they were confident and optimistic about our ability to adapt.
“The best solutions are always going to come from minds and machines working together,” said Andrew McAfee, co-director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, and author of “The Second Machine Age.” But that balance of minds and machines won’t always be the same. In five years, that balance will be totally different in, say, customer service and driving.
The good news is that the U.S. economy is really good at creating new jobs once old ones get automated. As an example, McAfee pointed out that the year of peak manufacturing employment in the United States was 1979. Every year since, the number of people working in the industry has gone down even though output goes up. “Those people didn’t become unemployed and their families didn’t starve,” he said.