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AI and the Future of the Economy

How Humans Keep Winning the War on Automation

October 2023

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Your job is going to disappear.

And so are your friends’ jobs.

And so are the jobs of untold millions of Americans.

As artificial intelligence becomes more advanced, the computers are going to get better than us at almost everything — which means improvements in technology could leave most of us without anything to do … or any way to earn a paycheck.

It's a threat the likes of which we’ve never seen before … by which we mean it’s a threat we’ve kinda seen before … by which we mean … ok, look, it’s a threat that has actually run throughout the entirety of human history.

And, so far … it’s never actually happened.

[OPENING SEQUENCE]

Artificial intelligence: It’s the gift that keeps on … scaring the [$*%^] out of us.

Everywhere you turn these days there are concerns that AI is going to destroy society: deepfakes leading to widespread misinformation; mass surveillance; even fears that AI could eventually lead to the extinction of the human race.

Will any of it happen?

Couldn’t tell you.

Because here at Kite & Key we don’t pretend to be able to predict the future.

Though, just for the record, if the robots do hunt us all to extinction … we’re against that.

But while most of the concerns around AI are highly speculative, there’s at least one where there are already lots of facts we can bring to bear: the fear that AI is going to take away all of our jobs.

In the old days — by which we mean eight minutes ago — the effects of technology used to be more limited. Factory workers had to worry about being replaced by robots. Fast-food workers had to worry about being replaced by kiosks.

Today? It’s kinda everybody.

If you write for a living, ChatGPT is breathing down your neck. Graphic design? You’ll have to fight off Bing, Dall-E, and Midjourney.

In medicine, AI-powered devices already assist doctors in making diagnosesi and, in some cases, can even out-perform specialists.ii We’ve even gotten to the point where robots have testified in front of lawmakers.

No, no, sorry. This one.

In fact, one study out of Oxford predicted that nearly half of American jobs were at risk of being lost to technology in the near futureiii — which sounds really bad, but … what if it’s wrong? What if jobs don’t just go away?

That may sound like wishful thinking, but it’s actually the clear historical pattern.

A new technology comes along that experts predict will cause mass unemployment and it … doesn’t happen.

We’ve seen this play out over and over throughout history.

The details are always a little different, but the pattern is pretty consistent.

Seriously, people were panicking about losing their jobs to machines in the 1500s.iv

And it probably goes back even further than that.

So, what’s happening here? How do we keep avoiding disaster?

Well, for one thing, we often tend to overestimate how much change there’s going to be. That scary Oxford study we told you about earlier? It estimated that 47 percent of American jobs were in danger of automation within as little as a decade — which is why it’s worth knowing that it was published in 2013.v

Another factor is that there’s no fixed number of jobs in the world. Here’s what we mean: Even when a job does actually get automated away, that pretty much always means that the task in question has now become faster and cheaper — which makes society more productive and wealthier — which, in turn, means we start creating new and different jobs.

As a result, the future looks a little different when you consider both sides of the equation. An analysis by the World Economic Forum, for instance, projected that as many as 85 million jobs might be lost to technology by 2025 … but that 97 million new jobs would be created in the same time frame.vi

And by the way, this is not a new dynamic. It’s always been this way. In fact, about 60 percent of people working today have jobs in categories that didn’t even exist in 1940 vii — which is how this job ended up only a few generations removed from this one.

There’s one other factor at work here too: Oftentimes technology doesn’t destroy jobs; it just slightly alters them.

For example, when ATMs went into wide use in the 1990s, many experts predicted that human bank tellers would disappear within a few years.viii

The reality? There were more bank tellers in 2008 than there were in 1998, even as hundreds of thousands of ATMs were installed across the country.ix

Why?

Because once tellers no longer had to spend as much time handling withdrawals and deposits, they took on more complicated customer service tasks.

Most of those jobs didn’t go away, they just evolved into something slightly different — which is a good reminder that the future often doesn’t play out the way we imagine.

When it comes to AI, most of the big questions are still unanswerable. No one knows. But on the specific concern about whether it’s going to cost us all our jobs? The history suggests it’s unlikely.

Could this time be different? Sure. But it’s worth keeping in mind that all those people in the past thought their time was different too.

None of which is to suggest that the future will be painless. Some people will lose their jobs. Some people will have to develop new skills. But there are still going to be jobs out there. Lots of them — which means we can all go back to worrying about the bigger problems…

…like when the robot uprising is gonna start.

Source(s)

  1. "Deep Learning Algorithm for Automated Cardiac Murmur Detection via a Digital Stethoscope Platform" (John S. Chorba, et al.)  Journal of the American Heart Association
  2. "International Evaluation of an AI System for Breast Cancer Screening" (S.M. McKinney, et al.)  Nature 
  3. "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?" (Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne) — Oxford Martin School
  4. "How Do Governments Shape the Course of Innovation?" (Richard L. Brandt)  MIT Spectrum
  5. "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?" (Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne) — Oxford Martin School 
  6.  The Future of Jobs Report 2020 — World Economic Forum 
  7. "New Frontiers: The Origins and Content of New Work, 1940–2018" (David Autor, et al.)  MIT Economicspg. 12
  8. Learning by Doing: The Real Connection Between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth  James Bessench. 7 
  9. "Not All Robots Take Your Job, Some Become Your Co-Worker" (Aaron Klein)  Brookings Institution

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