Sami Mahroum at Project Syndicate: “…It is more than 500 years since Sir Thomas More found inspiration for the “Kingdom of Utopia” while strolling the streets of Antwerp. So, when I traveled there from Dubai in May to speak about artificial intelligence (AI), I couldn’t help but draw parallels to Raphael Hythloday, the character in Utopia who regales sixteenth-century Englanders with tales of a better world.
As home to the world’s first Minister of AI, as well as museums, academies, and foundations dedicated to studying the future, Dubai is on its own Hythloday-esque voyage. Whereas Europe, in general, has grown increasingly anxious about technological threats to employment, the United Arab Emirates has enthusiastically embraced the labor-saving potential of AI and automation.
There are practical reasons for this. The ratio of indigenous-to-foreign labor in the Gulf states is highly imbalanced, ranging from a high of 67% in Saudi Arabia to a low of 11% in the UAE. And because the region’s desert environment cannot support further population growth, the prospect of replacing people with machines has become increasingly attractive.
But there is also a deeper cultural difference between the two regions. Unlike Western Europe, the birthplace of both the Industrial Revolution and the “Protestant work ethic,” Arab societies generally do not “live to work,” but rather “work to live,” placing a greater value on leisure time. Such attitudes are not particularly compatible with economic systems that require squeezing ever more productivity out of labor, but they are well suited for an age of AI and automation….
Fortunately, AI and data-driven innovation could offer a way forward. In what could be perceived as a kind of AI utopia, the paradox of a bigger state with a smaller budget could be reconciled, because the government would have the tools to expand public goods and services at a very small cost.
The biggest hurdle would be cultural: As early as 1948, the German philosopher Joseph Pieper warned against the “proletarianization” of people and called for leisure to be the basis for culture. Westerners would have to abandon their obsession with the work ethic, as well as their deep-seated resentment toward “free riders.” They would have to start differentiating between work that is necessary for a dignified existence, and work that is geared toward amassing wealth and achieving status. The former could potentially be all but eliminated.
With the right mindset, all societies could start to forge a new AI-driven social contract, wherein the state would capture a larger share of the return on assets, and distribute the surplus generated by AI and automation to residents. Publicly-owned machines would produce a wide range of goods and services, from generic drugs, food, clothes, and housing, to basic research, security, and transportation….(More)”.