Machine learning and robots are going to create a lot of wealth, but they will also replace a lot of human labor. We saw many types of jobs disappear in the Industrial Revolution, but we also saw jobs created that had never existed before. In this new wave of technological disruption, the pace of job automation will outstrip job creation in the short term and cause a lot of unemployment and underemployment.

In the Industrial Revolution you could jump off of any unskilled labor job, take some courses, learn some new skills, and find a new, likely higher paying job. What’s different this time is that we now have AIs and machine learning algorithms that can replicate many of the cognitive skills these individuals would be pursuing, and they can do it much faster. In many winning cases, we will see people partnering with AI and robotic systems to deliver productivity not possible with AIs or humans alone.

This transition will ultimately be a good thing. We will generate more wealth than we ever have before, the economy will grow, and businesses will be able to do new things they’ve never done before. In the long term, this will create a society that potentially improves the quality of life for everyone. However, in the short term, we’ll likely see displacement because we don’t have the social mechanisms in place to keep up with these changes. Most large organization, whether corporations or governments, are famously (or infamously) reactive rather than proactive. Is there any chance our global societies will prepare sufficiently to make this upcoming transition a smooth one or are we potentially facing some rough seas ahead? What are the major hurdles we’ll need to get over if we want to minimize disruption?

We must seriously start talking about decoupling income from work. Adopting a universal basic income, aside from immunizing against the negative effects of automation, also decreases the risks inherent in entrepreneurship, and the sizes of bureaucracies otherwise necessary to boost incomes. It’s for these reasons, it has cross-partisan support, and is even now in the beginning stages of implementation in countries like Switzerland, Finland, and the Netherlands.

Now, U.S. Congress Discusses AI, Automation, Robotics and Basic Income

Dr. Andrew McAfee, Principal Research Scientist
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA

Mr. Adam Keiper, Fellow and Editor of The New Atlantis
Ethics and Public Policy Center
Washington, D.C.

Dr. Harry Holzer, Professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy
Georgetown University
Washington, D.C.

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