Fearful You’ll Lose Your Job to Artificial Intelligence?

Two of MIT’s most knowledgeable guys on artificial intelligence, Andrew McAFee and Erik Brynjolfsson, will tell you to cool it. In fact, they argue that asking how many jobs will be killed by AI is the wrong question. Sure, Frey and Osborne’s 2015 analysis found that nearly 50% of current jobs are susceptible to AI. But by no stretch of the imagination is that the whole picture.

Like previous predictions about gains and losses, they’ve almost always been way off. Furthermore, nearly all these predictions have been about job destruction and not job creation. Destruction always makes for better news. (Having taught persuasion theory for nearly a dozen years, I’ve gotten to the place where I reject nearly most political, economic and technological scares—except for climate. If the issue is important to me, I look for the real experts to see what they have to say. To the degree possible, I try to identify and ignore my own bias on the subject. After all, there is a genuine reason for real experts, in spite of what the media idiocracy would have you believe.)

But MIT’s astute David Autor will tell you that you don’t want to set aside all your AI concerns. On numerous occasions, he’s pointed out two major labor force challenges caused, at least in part, by technology. The first is that the great middle-class I grew up in was built on routine work. You had to be a real dumbass in Detroit in the ‘forties and fifties’ not to have a good salary and benefits. I made enough in one year (’53-’54) of factory work to pay for nearly three years of my college expenses. During and shortly after WWII, the auto industry built a middle-class like we’ve never seen since. Two of the young maintenance guys at my apartment say they’re saving money to go to vocation school or maybe, college. On $12 or $13 an hour, that’s plainly unrealistic realistic. You can’t begin to pay for college with one year of $17 an hour factory work today. Not even a single semester.

So, there’s plenty of routine work today, too, but you’re not going to get enough to live on out of that salary.

Autor and his colleagues also point out a second challenge. In spite of our very low unemployment rate, there is actually a very serious joblessness problem among some groups. That’s because people who have stopped looking for work are not included in the joblessness statistics. And a large percentage of these folk, mostly prime-aged, poorly educated men, are in this category.

The conclusion? “As automation takes over truck driving and other similar jobs this mismatch between desired and available is likely to grow, as will the joblessness and attendant problems that come with it.”

How to resolve this problem? Well, a strong set of government policies is one way. For example, a large expansion of the earned income tax credit and wage supports. But under the current regime, I’m not especially hopeful.

The second way is going to work on our decaying infrastructure. That includes more than just roads. It also includes ports, bridges, airports, etc. It needs to be said that looking at things like coal mining is just looking in the rearview mirror.

None of these problems is insurmountable. But they’re going to take a national push by government and the voting public.

The entire article is here: Why “How many jobs will be killed by AI?” is the wrong question.

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