Artificial intelligence could dramatically improve the economy and aspects of everyday life, but we need to invent ways to make sure everyone benefits.
Labor economists have been pointing out the employment consequences of new digital technologies for several years, and the White House report dutifully lays out many of those findings. As it notes, the imminent problem is not that robots will hasten the day when there is no need for human workers. That end-of-work scenario remains speculative, and the report pays it little heed. Instead, it is far more concerned with the transition in our economy that is already under way: the types of jobs available are rapidly changing. That’s why the report is so timely. It is an attempt to elevate into Washington political circles the discussion of how automation and, increasingly, AI are affecting employment, and why it’s time to finally adopt educational and labor policies to address the plight of workers either displaced by technology or ill suited for the new opportunities.
It is “glaringly obvious,” says Daron Acemoglu, an economist at MIT, that political leaders are “totally unprepared” to deal with how automation is changing employment. Automation has been displacing workers from a variety of occupations, including ones in manufacturing. And now, he says, AI and the quickening deployment of robots in various industries, including auto manufacturing, metal products, pharmaceuticals, food service, and warehouses, could exacerbate the effects. “We haven’t even begun the debate,” he warns. “We’ve just been papering over the issues.”