Unleashing possibilities, ignoring risks: Why we need tools to manage AI’s impact on jobs

Article by Katya Klinova and Anton Korinek: “…Predicting the effects of a new technology on labor demand is difficult and involves significant uncertainty. Some would argue that, given the uncertainty, we should let the “invisible hand” of the market decide our technological destiny. But we believe that the difficulty of answering the question “Who is going to benefit and who is going to lose out?” should not serve as an excuse for never posing the question in the first place. As we emphasized, the incentives for cutting labor costs are artificially inflated. Moreover, the invisible hand theorem does not hold for technological change. Therefore, a failure to investigate the distribution of benefits and costs of AI risks invites a future with too many “so-so” uses of AI—uses that concentrate gains while distributing the costs. Although predictions about the downstream impacts of AI systems will always involve some uncertainty, they are nonetheless useful to spot applications of AI that pose the greatest risks to labor early on and to channel the potential of AI where society needs it the most.

In today’s society, the labor market serves as a primary mechanism for distributing income as well as for providing people with a sense of meaning, community, and purpose. It has been documented that job loss can lead to regional decline, a rise in “deaths of despair,” addiction and mental health problems. The path that we lay out aims to prevent abrupt job losses or declines in job quality on the national and global scale, providing an additional tool for managing the pace and shape of AI-driven labor market transformation.

Nonetheless, we do not want to rule out the possibility that humanity may eventually be much happier in a world where machines do a lot more economically valuable work. Even despite our best efforts to manage the pace and shape of AI labor market disruption through regulation and worker-centric practices, we may still face a future with significantly reduced human labor demand. Should the demand for human labor decrease permanently with the advancement of AI, timely policy responses will be needed to address both the lost incomes as well as the lost sense of meaning and purpose. In the absence of significant efforts to distribute the gains from advanced AI more broadly, the possible devaluation of human labor would deeply impact income distribution and democratic institutions’ sustainability. While a jobless future is not guaranteed, its mere possibility and the resulting potential societal repercussions demand serious consideration. One promising proposal to consider is to create an insurance policy against a dramatic decrease in the demand for human labor that automatically kicks in if the share of income received by workers declines, for example a “seed” Universal Basic Income that starts at a very small level and remains unchanged if workers continue to prosper but automatically rises if there is large scale worker displacement…(More)”.