White House Report: Future Dominated By Artificial Intelligence Brings Productivity And Inequality

Image courtesy of Steve Tanner

From talking speakers and virtual assistants to self-driving cars, artificial intelligence is slowly becoming part of our lives. As progress continues and computer programs are able to perform more human jobs, how can we protect people from being displaced from the job market and from worsening economic inequality that might come from rapid technological change?

Governments are supposed to plan ahead, and the President’s Council of Economic Advisers does exactly that. Today, the CEA released a report with its recommendations for the near future, and how the country might be able to use more advanced technology while leaving as few people behind as possible.

A job is a set of tasks, and most jobs can’t be completely automated. The CEA estimates that while millions of jobs are at risk as AI advances and becomes more pervasive in our workplaces and our lives, the jobs most at risk of disappearing into automation are lower-paid, lower-skilled jobs.

It’s difficult to make more precise predictions than that, though, because AI isn’t a single thing. “Because AI is not a single technology, but rather a collection of technologies that are applied to specific tasks, the effects of AI will be felt unevenly through the economy,” the CEA explains in the report. “Some tasks will be more easily automated than others, and some jobs will be affected more than others—both negatively and positively.”

As you go up the ladder, it’s possible that some of a person’s work day might be automated, but less likely that the job market will leave them behind. The more creativity, judgement, and general knowledge that is needed for a task, it’s less likely that a computer program will be able to take it over.

There’s always some churn in the economy: failing businesses close and new businesses open, and the kinds of jobs that are available locally and nationally gradually changes.

In the case of driving jobs that could be lost to autonomous vehicles, for example, not everyone who has a job that includes driving would be put out of work: some of the people currently working as drivers of buses, trucks, and delivery vehicles would still be needed to ride along, but not to drive.

Greater productivity drives economic growth, but governments are in charge of looking out for and protecting citizens, not necessarily their robots. The Council of Economic Advisors has some ideas for how to protect individuals and jobs, which include familiar progressive political goals like making sure science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education is available to a diverse range of Americans.

Other policy recommendations include strengthening the social safety net for those people who do lose their jobs, and making education and training opportunities available so people can advance to jobs that can’t be automated so easily.