AI is likely to pull the plug on lot of jobs, but that’s OK

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Steven Overly

The growing pop­u­lar­ity of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence tech­nol­ogy will prob­a­bly lead to mil­lions of lost jobs, es­pe­cially among less-ed­u­cated work­ers, and could ex­ac­er­bate the eco­nomic di­vide be­tween so­cioe­co­nomic classes in the United States, ac­cord­ing to a newly re­leased White House re­port.

But that same tech­nol­ogy is also es­sen­tial to im­prov­ing the coun­try’s pro­duc­tiv­ity growth, a key mea­sure of how ef­fi­ciently the econ­omy pro­duces goods. That could ul­ti­mately lead to higher av­er­age wages and fewer work hours. For that rea­son, the re­port con­cludes, our econ­omy ac­tu­ally needs more ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, not less.

To rec­on­cile the ben­e­fits of the tech­nol­ogy with its ex­pected toll, the re­port states, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should ex­pand both ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion in tech­ni­cal fields and the scope of un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits. Those pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions, which the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has made in the past, could head off some of those job losses and sup­port those who find them­selves out of work due to the com­ing eco­nomic shift, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

The White House re­port comes one month be­fore Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump is sworn into of­fice, mean­ing Obama will need his suc­ces­sor to ex­e­cute on the pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions. That seems un­likely, es­pe­cially as far as un­em­ploy­ment pro­tec­tions are con­cerned. Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans al­ready aim to cur­tail some ex­ist­ing en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams to re­duce gov­ern­ment spend­ing.

Rolling back So­cial Se­cu­rity pro­tec­tions for out-of­work fam­i­lies “would po­ten­tially be more risky at a time when you have th­ese types of changes in the econ­omy that we’re doc­u­ment­ing in this re­port,” Jason Fur­man, the chair­man of the Coun­cil of Eco­nomic Ad­vis­ers, said in a call with re­porters.

Re­search con­ducted in re­cent years varies widely on how many jobs will be dis­placed due to ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. A 2016 study from the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment es­ti­mates that 9 per­cent of jobs would be com­pletely dis­placed in the next two decades. Many more jobs will be trans­formed, if not elim­i­nated. Two aca­demics from Oxford Univer­sity, how­ever, put that num­ber at 47 per­cent in a study con­ducted in 2013.

The stag­ger­ing dif­fer­ence il­lus­trates how much the im­pact of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence re­mains spec­u­la­tive. While cer­tain in­dus­tries, such as trans­porta­tion and agriculture, ap­pear to be em­brac­ing the tech­nol­ogy with rel­a­tive haste, oth­ers are likely to face a slower pe­riod of adop­tion.

“If th­ese es­ti­mates of threat­ened jobs trans­late into job dis­place­ment, mil­lions of Amer­i­cans will have their liveli­hoods sig­nif­i­cantly al­tered and po­ten­tially face con­sid­er­able eco­nomic chal­lenges in the short- and medium-term,” the White House re­port states.

Those same stud­ies were con­sis­tent, how­ever, when it came to the pop­u­la­tion that would feel the eco­nomic brunt of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence. The work­ers earn­ing less than $20 per hour and with­out a high school diploma would be most likely to see their jobs au­to­mated away. The pro­jec­tions im­proved if work­ers earned higher wages or ob­tained higher lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion.

Jobs that in­volve a high de­gree of cre­ativ­ity, an­a­lyt­i­cal think­ing or in­ter­per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tion are con­sid­ered most se­cure.

The re­port also high­lights po­ten­tial ad­van­tages of the tech­nol­ogy. It could lead to greater la­bor pro­duc­tiv­ity, mean­ing work­ers have to work fewer hours to pro­duce the same amount. That could lead to more leisure time and a higher qual­ity of life, the re­port notes.

“As we look at AI, our big­gest eco­nomic con­cern is that we won’t have enough of it, that we won’t have enough pro­duc­tiv­ity growth,” Fur­man said. “Any­thing we can do to have more AI will lead to more pro­duc­tiv­ity growth.”

To that end, the re­port calls for fur­ther in­vest­ment in ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence re­search and de­vel­op­ment. Specif­i­cally, the White House sees the tech­nol­ogy’s ap­pli­ca­tions in cy­berde­fense and fraud de­tec­tion as par­tic­u­larly promis­ing.

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