As advances in vertical intelligence in machine learning make the automation of specific tasks more likely, there is the very real possibility that robots may make some humans redundant. But what happens next?
Author Yuval Noah Harari speculates that AI and automation will result in a new “useless” working class, an unemployed generation utterly disempowered by the loss of their economic importance. He foresees a Brave New World scenario where, in the absence of meaningful work and interactions, everybody seeks fulfillment through drugs and video games.
“We’ve been seeing specialized AI in every aspect of our lives, from medicine and transportation to how electricity is distributed, and it promises to create a vastly more productive and efficient economy,” President Obama said in a recent interview with Wired. “If properly harnessed, it can generate enormous prosperity and opportunity. But it also has some downsides that we’re gonna have to figure out in terms of not eliminating jobs. It could increase inequality. It could suppress wages.”
The impact of AI on earning power and economic inequality was something which Space X founder Elon Musk also addressed while speaking to CNBC this week. “There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation,” he says. Gizmodo’s Eve Peyser believes that such an economic equaliser would lead to a redefinition of our cultural landscape, saying: “In a world with guaranteed income, we would be just as defined by our leisure as our labor.”
Musk is more optimistic than Harari when it comes to the personal happiness of people living in an automated world. “People will have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things,” he says. Not that an automated society is just around the corner; while certain productivity-focused roles can be taken over by machines, a marriage of machine and human intelligence seems much likelier.
There is also the potential for brand new jobs to be created in response to the ever-changing expectations and cultural norms of a world built on increasingly sophisticated technology. “We gotta figure out how we integrate with a world and future with a vast AI,” says Musk. “I think there has to be some improved symbiosis with digital super intelligence.”