Why AI Could Destroy More Jobs Than it Creates, and How to Save Them
Comment of the Day

August 03 2015

Commentary by David Fuller

Why AI Could Destroy More Jobs Than it Creates, and How to Save Them

Here is a section commenting on Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and co-author of The Second Machine Age:  

Brynjolfsson points out that the rate of technological change is of a different order in the information age to the industrial revolution.

"I think it's going to require a similar level of overall change but it's probably going to have to happen faster. The steam engine was a remarkable breakthrough and really set off the industrial revolution, but as we say in the book it doubled in power and efficiency approximately once every 70 years and quadrupled after 140 years," he said.

"The computer processor doubles in power every 18 months, 10 times greater every five years, it's a very different scale of advancement and it's affecting a broader set of the economy than the steam engine did, in terms of all the cognitive tasks. It's happening a lot faster and more pervasively than before."

But is it correct to link the rate of societal change, and of advances in artificial intelligence, to the breakneck pace at which processors are becoming more powerful? Not everyone agrees.

Nick Jennings, professor of Computer Science at Southampton University has years of experience working with agent-based computing and intelligent systems. He doesn't foresee runaway advances in the field of AI that will reverberate throughout the rest of society.

"[I don't see] major shifts, no," said Jennings. "I see a gradual increase in automation and a gradual increase in the software tools that people have to support them in their day-to-day work. I don't see any non-linearities, I see processing getting better, speeds getting better, more data becoming available and us running more complicated algorithms on that data. I don't see anything that is going to cause a phase change or a disjunction in one go.

Even with computing technologies improving at that "steady, inexorable" rate, jobs may be being destroyed faster than they are created.

For most of the second half of the twentieth century the economic value generated in the US - the country's productivity - grew hand-in-hand with the number of workers. But in 2000 the two measures began to diverge. From the turn of the century a gap opened up between productivity and total employment. By 2011, that delta had widened significantly, reflecting continued economic growth but no associated increase in job creation.

David Fuller's view

Veteran subscribers will know all about this problem of jobs creation during an accelerating rate of technological innovation, particularly in terms of software.  This service has been commenting on it for a number of years. 

We know that new jobs are being created, even some as a consequence of software developments, but they are not keeping up with job replacements.  Also, they are often lower paid jobs.

This report has some graphics which should interest you, not least a comparison of Labor Productivity and Private Employment.  

Who benefits most from the loss of jobs?  Inevitably, corporations and to a lesser extent governments. 

Here is an early, prescient quote from the article on this subject:

“The role of humans as the most important factor of production is bound to diminish in the same way that the role of horses in agricultural production was first diminished and then eliminated by the introduction of tractors.”

Nobel Prize-winning economist, Wassily Leontief, in 1983 

Here is a PDF version of the article from TechRepublic.

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