21st-Century Automation Requires 21st-Century Action

Artificial intelligence, when machines can simulate human knowledge, is the new frontier of innovation, with exciting benefits for the future.

The impact of this technology will be felt around the United States and the world, creating a new vision of the future for millions of people. One exciting prospect of artificial intelligence's advancement is the streamlining of government. If implemented and designed correctly, artificial intelligence could offer information based less on ideology and more on analytics, giving governments and corporations real feedback about the effectiveness of their programs. It could also allow governments to decide how to provide the most efficient assistance (Mason). Other private occupations, such as journalism, are being assisted by artificial intelligence. The Washington Post has recently begun using a technology they call Heliograf. This form of technology uses artificial intelligence to write human-readable articles, which are effectively indistinguishable from those written by a human (Washington Post PR). In addition to improving existing jobs, artificial intelligence creates more leisure time which can be used to start businesses or relax (Nilsson). However, the American workforce is not prepared for this monumental of a shift. American public society and policy must adapt to the new AI-enhanced job market, producing a secure, highly-educated workforce.

The rise of artificial intelligence will lead to a change in the job market and economy in ways that have not yet been reflected in history. In the past, automation has consisted of the mechanization of mundane tasks. In these cases, machines are programmed to complete and repeat a particular function; this is what Educational presenter CGP Grey explains to his audience in "Humans Need Not Apply" as "old" automation. The difference with artificial intelligence, he explains, is that it allows software to learn and make its own decisions, instead of being imperatively programmed by an engineer (and this is a "new" type of automation). He also finds problems in the language used to describe this technology and argues that using familiar terms like "cars" or "trucks" to refer to autonomous vehicles is a fallacy because it limits thinking only to include the tool that humans use, and not something completely new ("Humans Need"). Many great thinkers are divided on how long the job market will be impacted by this new kind of automation, but there is consensus on its effect in the near future. In an interview with WIRED's Scott Dadich, former President Barack Obama reflected on the emergence of AI. In history, America has absorbed new technologies, and people migrated to different occupations. Generally speaking, this has made the standard of living in the United States rise and has allowed people to adopt better socioeconomic positions. However, the former President worries that since AI can be applied in a wide variety of domains, it could have different outcomes, leading to unemployment or recession (Dadich). With the possibility of jobs being lost to artificial intelligence, people and companies alike fear that there are fewer jobs and the possibility of a very large surge of unemployment. Artificial intelligence, while is a form of automation, will have a profound impact on the job market, and create a problem that the United States has never seen. As the requirements needed for employment shift in America, different types of jobs and careers must be promoted. Humans, when completing tasks, typically do so in the way that is most convenient or comfortable, but computers complete tasks in what is defined as the most efficient method. The concept of efficiency applies to some types of work, like that of a factory worker or automobile drivers. For example, a self-driving truck takes the shortest possible route to a destination, or a translator model aims to be as well-received by native speakers as possible. However, some positions, like art and service do not call for efficiency to do the best job. In comparison, a piece of art does not have a quantitative level of fitness, as it is subjective and expression the human mind. A medical nurse's quality cannot be accurately represented quantitatively, as their goal is to provide comfort for the patient and address. In these cases, a personal or creative touch is needed, and a human is likely a better choice for the job (Kelly). Due to the prospects of automation, middle-management office jobs are those that are in the most danger. The sectors that have the highest levels of employment are either people in service positions or require some judgment (police, etc.) (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Service positions, which strongly require inherently human traits, will be some of the best choices for Americans in the near future, though there is a social stigma surrounding these positions. President Obama explained that "whether it's teachers, nurses, caregivers, moms or dads who stay at home, artists -- all the things that are incredibly valuable to us right now but don't rank high on the 'totem pole.' That's a conversation that we need to begin to have" (Dadich). Society often sees these types of positions as that of a lower social class than others, but with the changing job market, there has been a call for more of a concentration in jobs that require uniquely human skills.

Societal and cultural shifts about jobs and their perceptions are necessary to maintain the society that has been created within the United States. Despite an anticipated decrease in available low-level positions, there are still a significant amount of positions that will likely open in large corporations. According to Abrar Al-Heeti in an article for CNET, routine tasks will probably be assumed by machine learning, but "higher-level" positions that require human judgment will likely open up (Al-Heeti). These higher-level positions likely need a higher level of expertise in their field, which a lot of the people who are searching for jobs may not have. Similarly, education and teaching are reasonably safe positions, are necessary for society and almost impossible for an artificial intelligence model to efficiently replicate. However, educators are underpaid significantly compared to positions with the same level of human expertise required. Service positions, like teaching or nursing, are the least in danger because they demand human reason and often empathy -- features that computers cannot yet synthesize. Law enforcement positions need to align morals with the law, and this is typically only something that a human can possess right now -- programming morality into a machine is not something that is trustworthy. For now, humans are required in order to supplement computers and guide the learning process of these models. It is foreseen that the most significant sector of growth in 2018 will be healthcare, particularly nursing and medical assistants, as a generation of Americans is living longer (Al-Heeti). These occupations require service and human empathy; something machines cannot replicate.

As a result of changing requirements, the jobs of low-level workers are in imminent danger. The distinction between GDP growth and individual growth is an important distinction that is rarely made in this conversation. If the wealthiest in society continue to get wealthier and economic inequality increases, the middle class will continue to shrink. President Obama stresses the importance of distinguishing societal wealth from individual wealth (Dadich). As a whole, society will likely become richer from the advancements of artificial intelligence, but individual pay will likely, on average, decline if action is not taken. Dr. Jing Bing Zhang, a research director at the International Data Corporation, believes that automation will likely mainly affect lower-skilled ("blue collar") workers and that people should not expect to be able to pick one career for their whole life (Shewan). Americans who work these types of jobs are likely worried that their positions will disappear in the near future. This goes further than an artificial intelligence problem; according to a study at George Washington University, almost a quarter of jobs advertised in the United States go unfilled, as there is a mismatch of skills and requirements (Simons). Americans are not being prepared with the skills they need for a twenty-first-century workforce.

For those who face a risk of unemployment and where art or service positions are not an option, training artificial intelligence may become a worthwhile occupation. If society wants AI to fulfill its most significant promises, it needs a teacher -- just like any school child.  To "understand" the specific domain that it runs upon, it must be trained by data curated by humans. A significant portion of the information and media on the modern web is very biased, partisan or has outright falsehoods, and for the foreseeable future, a human moderator must watch the information that the model consumes.  Artificial intelligence inherently has a bias if the curators of the training data are not careful (Mims). A model that has inaccurate or conflicting information could be catastrophic for its success or its accuracy. Because the consequences are so dire if the training sets are not completely vetted, there still must be someone to create said datasets and to mark expected outputs. This is tedious work that a high-level researcher will likely not want to do and is often simplistic (classifying objects, rewriting sentences, etc.) that someone who lost their job in a lower-skill industry could be employed. Nick Bostrom, in a TED talk, explains that if we teach a machine to learn and understand human values, even if it escapes from some enclosure, it is "still fundamentally on our side" (Bostrom). Human values, like civil rights and liberties, must be explicitly explained, as a majority of history shows that humans did not always abide by these values. Once again, this is often tedious work that could be completed by almost anyone above a certain basic level and could be a good option for someone who lost their job.

While artificial intelligence endangers some jobs, the future of using it as a tool to supplement human work (instead of replacing it) creates economic opportunity. Andrew Chamberlain is the Chief Economist at Glassdoor, a firm designed to match companies with employees searching for work. He counters the notion that AI will cause mass unemployment, instead saying that "'[AI] rarely replaces a job completely, [as it] usually replaces some parts of a job and then leaves the other parts behind.'" (Al-Heeti). This collaboration between human and machine (often called pseudo-AI), according to The World Economic Forum, creates some of the most efficient workflows. For example, many companies (like Amazon) are employing humans to supplement and teach AI algorithms things that are inherently "human" (like identifying objects, etc.). Also, nurses and doctors can run simulations and diagnose diseases faster, and nutrition specialists can create more efficient and manageable diets for patients (Simons). Computers are designed to complete tasks in the most efficient ways possible to maximize their effectiveness. In a TED talk, AI expert Kevin Kelly explains that he believes the tone of public discourse about artificial intelligence is misguided. He believes that the true power of artificial intelligence is in utilizing it to supplement things humans are not efficient with (menial tasks, number crunching, data formatting, etc.) (Kelly). Humans perform poorly at computational or repeatable tasks, but since jobs like service jobs are not "efficient" and require traits that are inherently human, they are not a good fit for a computer. Agreement is widespread in the technology sector. Joe Lobo, the "botmaster" at the artificial intelligence firm Inbenta, told Alex Knapp of Forbes how artificial intelligence will be supplementable to jobs like educators and law enforcement officers. He explains that "'technology ... [is] developing and slightly adjusting the jobs they are having to do while incorporating artificial intelligence within it'" and adds that "'We are being able to evolve the types of jobs we can do and increase the scope of what we're able to offer thanks to increased productivity'" (Knapp). The prospects of an AI-enhanced job market create a promising occupational future.

Ventures into more technological education, like computer science, will prepare the next generation of workers for a changing world. Many positions in the changing economy require a deep understanding of new technological tools and understanding how to keep those skills fresh. In addition, it can open up doors to moving to other positions (for example, finance, government, and media organizations) (Al-Heeti). Computer science education provides students with the knowledge necessary to go into almost any field, as technological aptitude is quickly becoming a job requirement. However, the type of training needed is not what many may assume it to be. In the age of personal computing, software development work has come to mean developing tangible apps and software, but where the highest demand is needed is in behind-the-scenes engineering and scripting knowledge to understand their positions and rise to higher-level jobs (Shewan). As computer software hits the mainstream, almost every aspect of life is or will be online. Every service hosted online needs experts on-call to deliver the information to the consumer efficiently or fix problems. As more and more moves to the digital realm, these types of positions will be more critical than ever. However, computer science and computer engineering education are still looked upon by many as a novelty, incredibly technical skill, or just unnecessary. For example, In the age of the Trump administration, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has shown disapproval for expanding high school computer science education (Shewan). This dangerous move was likely based on the fact that the economy appears to be prosperous, but as skill requirements change for jobs, the next generation of Americans may not be prepared for the workforce. In fact, this change will mainly hurt the demographic of Americans who are likely to see a decline in employment: those just with a high school diploma. These adults are the most in danger of unemployment, and training the next generation of workers to have aptitude with new technology is extremely important.

The concept of universal basic income, while may seem outlandish to many, is likely the most definitive solution to provide security to workers. Universal basic income is the prospect that all citizens in the lower and middle class of a nation are paid a specific amount a year by the state (just enough to get above the poverty line), with no exceptions and no questions asked. The key to universal basic income is to pay recipients enough to get by, but not enough to sustain themselves for any significant amount of time, as this will provide a safety net while still keeping the incentive to work (Smith). Kurzgesagt, a German educational studio, explains that the current problem with the unemployment and welfare programs as they exist in the United States is bureaucracy and process. If someone files for unemployment, the aim is to get them back in a position as soon as possible, so the recipient will be watched closely and expected to report the results of their job search to the government. Because of this constant monitoring, workers will often be required by the state to take a position that is not a good fit for their skills or traps them in poverty with an extremely cheap pay. In addition, these government programs have a large upfront cost to them, where they have to pay many people to keep tabs on recipients of the program. In any case, skills must be kept up to date with ever-changing technology, and career changes will likely become a commodity. Since universal basic income essentially leaves the recipient in charge of their prospects, free from governmental interference, they can explore other options like re-education, apprenticeship or starting their own business. ("Universal Basic" 0:30). The concept of universal basic income is gaining popularity in Europe, and in some parts of the United States -- specifically, the tech industry. Many experts believe that it will be necessary to implement some form of universal basic income in the age of artificial intelligence, as they are worried that without it the standard of living will see a sharp decline, as workers will need financial support in between positions or during career changes (Smith). As technology changes and people change careers, a universal support system will provide the tools necessary to create new, prosperous, careers.

Universal basic income is being trialed around the world as a solution to a changing economy, with positive results, but critics of the policy claim that a guaranteed sum from the federal government encourages laziness and stalls innovation. However, universal basic income provides enough to get by, but not enough to live a comfortable lifestyle, which would give recipients an incentive to work towards a better economic position. For example, people may be more willing to start their own business, as they still have a method of income that they can fall back on if necessary. In addition to fostering economic growth, a study by the World Bank concluded that most who receive money spend it responsibly towards improving socioeconomic class or life necessities, and not on intoxicants or gambling ("Universal Basic"). According to Futurism, in many first and second world countries, specifically Nordic nations and some places in Canada. Universal Basic Income would eliminate living in poverty for many citizens and would foster an environment with more encouragement for innovation (as risky ventures still can put food on the table, and it provides time for re-education) (Kingma). Though these trials of this experimental governmental policy are still in early phases, it appears to be a very reasonable solution to an imminent economic shift. The notion that recipients of government assistance are lazy and unmotivated is an outdated stereotype.

American political discussion must include the prospects of the new AI-enhanced job market to keep Americans employed. A lack of discussion, research, and action about these topics will lead to mass-unemployment for blue-collar workers and the middle class, where only the extremely rich will be able to prosper. However, through adjusting cultural and legal practices while working together with artificial intelligence, the United States can choose the path of being a prosperous and fairer nation for everyone.

Works Cited

Al-Heeti, Abrar. “Job market in 2018 will feel AI’s influence.” CNET, 20 Dec. 2017, www.cnet.com/news/job-market-2018-hr-workplace-ai-influence-glassdoor/. Accessed 11 Jan. 2018.

Bostrom, Nick. “What happens when our computers get smarter than we are?” YouTube, uploaded by TED, Google LLC, 27 Apr. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnT1xgZgkpk&t=16s. Accessed 7 Jan. 2018. Speech. 

“Humans Need Not Apply.” YouTube, uploaded by CGP Grey, Google LLC, 13 Aug. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pq-S557XQU. Accessed 9 Jan. 2018.

Kelly, Kevin. “How AI can bring on a second Industrial Revolution.” 12 Jan. 2017. YouTube, uploaded by TED, Google LLC, 12 Jan. 2017, How AI can bring on a second Industrial Revolution. Accessed 7 Jan. 2018. Speech. 

Kingma, Luke. “Universal Basic Income: The Answer to Automation?” Futurism, futurism.com/images/universal-basic-income-answer-automation/. Accessed 6 Feb. 2018.

Knapp, Alex. “How Artificial Intelligence Creates New Job Opportunities.” Forbes, 28 Mar. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2017/03/28/how-artificial-intelligence-creates-new-job-opportunities/#2a200153586a. Accessed 11 Jan. 2018.

Mason, Elisabeth A. “A.I. and Big Data Could Power a New War on Poverty.” The New York Times, 1 Jan. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/01/01/opinion/ai-and-big-data-could-power-a-new-war-on-poverty.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-right-region&region=opinion-c-col-right-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-right-region&referer=. Accessed 9 Jan. 2018.

Mims, Christopher. “Without Humans, Artificial Intelligence Is Still Pretty Stupid.” The Wall Street Journal, 12 Nov. 2017, www.wsj.com/articles/without-humans-artificial-intelligence-is-still-pretty-stupid-1510488000. Accessed 10 Jan. 2018.

Nilsson, Nils J. “Artificial Intelligence, Employment and Income.” Human Systems Management, vol. 5, no. 2, 1985, doi:10.3233/HSM-1985-5205. Accessed 15 Dec. 2017.

Obama, Barack, and Joi Ito. “President Barack Obama on How Artificial Intelligence Will Affect Jobs.” Interview by Scott Dadich. WIRED, Condé Nast Publications, 12 Oct. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgL32wtgeXQ. Accessed 5 Jan. 2018. 

Shewan, Dan. “Robots will destroy our jobs – and we’re not ready for it.” The Guardian, 11 Jan. 2017, www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/11/robots-jobs-employees-artificial-intelligence. Accessed 11 Jan. 2018.

Simons, Bright. “Artificial intelligence will save jobs, not destroy them. Here’s how.” World Economic Forum, 29 Nov. 2016, www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/11/how-prohuman-ai-can-change-the-job-market/. Accessed 11 Jan. 2018.

Smith, Noah. “A Basic Income for Everyone? It’s Not a Crazy Idea.” Bloomberg, 23 Jan. 2018, www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-01-23/a-basic-income-for-everyone-it-s-not-a-crazy-idea. Accessed 7 Feb. 2018.

The State of American Jobs. Washington, DC, Pew Research Group, 6 Oct. 2016. Pew Social Trends, www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/10/06/the-state-of-american-jobs/. Accessed 5 Jan. 2018.

United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, Division of Occupational Employment Statistics. Occupations with the highest employment in the public sector. 31 Mar. 2017. Occupational Employment Statistics. 

Bureau of Labor Statistics, The State of American Jobs. Accessed 5 Jan. 2018.

“Universal Basic Income Explained – Free Money for Everybody? UBI.” YouTube, uploaded by Kurzgesagt - In a Nutshell, Google LLC, 7 Dec. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=kl39KHS07Xc. Accessed 9 Jan. 2018.

WashPostPR. “The Washington Post leverages automated storytelling to cover high school football.” The Washington Post, 1 Sept. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/pr/wp/2017/09/01/the-washington-post-leverages-heliograf-to-cover-high-school-football/. Accessed 10 Jan. 2018.