Firstly, I’d like to draw your attention to an article written by my newspaper of choice (The Independent) entitled “Advances in artificial intelligence could lead to mass unemployment, warns experts.” This particular article was highlighted to me by my good friend Alex Blok.
It pains me that people are probably going to be pulled in to believing that artificial intelligence will only lead to mass unemployment. It simply is not necessarily the case! Before I start my post properly, I’d just like to highlight that I’m not an economist, but I am quite passionate and hopefully quite knowledgeable about both artificial intelligence and politics.
Firstly, humanity has been innovating ever since we’ve been Homo Sapiens. Innovation can be defined as finding new or better solutions for problems we encounter. One of the biggest problems innovation has attempted to solve is problematic health & safety when working. The wheel allowed one person to push a heavy object, when four people would have had to lift it previously. The wheel also lead into innovations such as pulleys. The industrial era attempted to simplify peoples jobs by providing automation, it then also gradually improved health and safety in those factories. So, the assembly line simplified the process of people putting together things (e.g. vehicles and electronic items) – eliminating some of the dangers, and many repetitions of doing things by hand. Each of these innovations, arguably, caused some unemployment (but not mass unemployment). At the same time it, arguably, allows for different jobs to be created.
Automation allows for the simplification of processing, which directly leads to a “freeing up” of costs. This single fact often means that positions in a business are no longer required, and the people in those positions are released – aiding in the “freeing up” of costs. There are now at least four choices about where this freed-up wealth now goes, (1a) it goes on creating new jobs within the business, or (1b) new avenues of business, (2) it goes to philanthropic projects, (3) it goes into paying off debt early, or (4) it goes into the pockets of the management of the business as they’ve been “clever” enough to employ such a solution.
I suspect that in contemporary society, with its ever increasingly capitalist stance it goes more into option (4) and option (3) than the other options (although there does seem to be some hint towards (1b) and (2) but to a much lesser degree).
Now we come to Artificial Intelligence. We’ve been employing Artificial Intelligence techniques ever since about the mid-1900s, where simple AI techniques allow for automated route discovery, automated pattern finding, automated quality assurance, speech-to-text assistance for the visually impaired, etc etc. There will continue to be advances in Artificial Intelligence which simplify human life. Whats different now to allow for such an unemployment worry? Partly, it is more widely known about, and this is thanks to the general public become a bit more technology-savvy and providing greater funds to technology businesses. Another potential reason for such a worry could be that the technological singularity is a possibility within the next 1 to 100 years (there are a variety of speculations), but I think this is a lesser reason for such a unemployment worry, and is more of a problem to existential risk if global unfriendly AI were to be created (but that is a completely different topic).
What needs to happen?
I think that the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford is correct that we need to start thinking about the risks which artificial intelligence imposes. Particularly as evolutionary algorithms are at such a stage that they could self-evolve at a greater pace than society can cope with. This risk research needs to feed directly into local, national and international governments which are going to have to change rather rapidly. We must keep in mind that freed-up wealth, instead of being fed into the pockets of business owners (or even authoritarian governments), could (and should!) be shared out into making humanity better – allowing for new/different jobs, increased quality of education and research, better health for all of humanity, genuine ecological improvements that are sustainable, and allowing for creativity within humanity to encounter new problems and create new innovations to solve those problems. We must do this with freedom, equality and community in mind.
So in summary. AI, like any other innovation, is not really a problem but a solution. What could be a problem however is the management of those solutions including corporate bosses, politicians and media. We need to collectively find solutions – Collectively being the whole of the community: whether employed, unemployed, management, politician or journalist. Hysteria and panic are not the way forward. Careful analysis and genuine support for humanity is the way forward.