The Real Threat of Artificial Intelligence

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While the world digs up old copies of Terminator to watch a dystopian view of the outcome of artificial intelligence, New York Times writer, Kai-Fu Lee, argues that self-aware robots are hundreds of years away.

Still, he states we should be worried:

“…the A.I. products that now exist are improving faster than most people realize and promise to radically transform our world, not always for the better. They are only tools, not a competing form of intelligence. But they will reshape what work means and how wealth is created, leading to unprecedented economic inequalities and even altering the global balance of power.”

Essentially, jobs will be lost. In the past, automation and other innovations have put blue-collar work at risk. This time around, the net is cast much wider:

“Bank tellers, customer service representatives, telemarketers, stock and bond traders, even paralegals and radiologists will gradually be replaced by such software. Over time this technology will come to control semiautonomous and autonomous hardware like self-driving cars and robots, displacing factory workers, construction workers, drivers, delivery workers and many others.”

There will be winners too. Companies that develop AI technology are the obvious beneficiaries. However, companies that implement automation and AI will see expanded profit margins. In which case, shareholders and top executives will reap the rewards.

However, these gains may be short lived. The question remains: if the workers are all gone, who will be left to buy? Will the top-line suffer at the expense of the bottom line?

People will still be needed for jobs that synthesize disparate unstructured information, provide comfort to other humans or create art. But who will pay for these workers? And how will the displaced survive?

“Here is where the enormous wealth concentrated in relatively few hands comes in. It strikes me as unavoidable that large chunks of the money created by A.I. will have to be transferred to those whose jobs have been displaced. This seems feasible only through Keynesian policies of increased government spending, presumably raised through taxation on wealthy companies.
As for what form that social welfare would take, I would argue for a conditional universal basic income: welfare offered to those who have a financial need, on the condition they either show an effort to receive training that would make them employable or commit to a certain number of hours of “service of love” voluntarism.

To fund this, tax rates will have to be high. The government will not only have to subsidize most people’s lives and work; it will also have to compensate for the loss of individual tax revenue previously collected from employed individuals.”

Governments around the world are already testing variations of basic income. Now you know why.

Read the full article at the New York Times.

Categories: AI

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