What Artificial Intelligence Really Means for Jobs

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been on a lot of minds, there are hundreds of anecdotes of the wonders and horrors of our machines doing what we can do, but better, faster, and stronger. Organizations of all sorts have been leveraging this futurist anxiety and elevating this issue to a point of dystopia or utopia, depending on who you’re talking with.

Greg Ip from the Wall Street Journal points out the fact that robots simply aren’t destroying jobs. Greg’s definition of a robot, or really automation, rests on human skills being replaced by a machine. He insists that worker productivity per hour across industries has been dismal: technology is still destroying jobs at a very slow rate partially because modern industries are stubbornly hard to automate. Artificial intelligence in it’s current state can successfully produce medical breakthroughs via machine learning, but these are high cost/high yield efforts. There are a thousand things we’d rather trust a machine with than our health, but there are a lot of things we certainly wouldn’t trust machines with (like our children).

What’s become apparent according to David Rotman is that cutting-edge technology accessible to the rich will probably just make the rich richer. Manufacturing and delivery jobs are in clear recline. According to an analysis of longitudinal data from Brynjolfsson and McAfee, digital technologies have boosted productivity in the United States without also spurring the expected job growth. They observed that there is a great decoupling: productivity continues to robustly rise but employment has begun to wilt. They conclude grimly that the rich with access to the profits of automation or AI will get richer, while the skill-less will get poorer and lose opportunities. But at the end of the day, the article concedes this is functionally just a conjecture.

A chilling economic prediction is the bifurcation of jobs into either high-paying specialized knowledge skills and low-paying/low-service jobs, effectively carving out the middle. But with that in mind, we are the current creators and masters of our technology, and this will be the case for a long time. Rather, it’s important in this period of technical and social flux to be the best we can be. Throughout history, each major economic shift from the 19th century to present has eliminated previously dominant forms of employment while creating entirely new possibilities. These impending changes could change the class structure of our nation and affect the way we work and relate to one another: it’s on us to watch out for each other and ride the rising wave of changes.


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