AI is not an automatic labor apocalypse | In Focus

Like most technological advancements, it’s what we make of it.

What do you think when you hear or read about Artificial Intelligence? Do you see it as the beginning of a whole new level of learning, or do you consider AI to be the end of human dominance? If you read articles or stories about the future of AI, here is what you will likely find:

“In the space of just a few months, the specter of artificial intelligence has come to haunt the world.”

“The release in late 2022 of ChatGPT, the most prominent of a new wave of generative AI models, has ignited concerns about the potentially disastrous consequences of the technology.”

“Depending on the telling, AI could lead to the rapid spread of disinformation, kill democracy, eliminate millions of jobs, or even result in the end of human species.”

“AI is the mother of all inappropriate technologies.”

National governments must gain control or inequality will only worsen. (Diane Cole, “Innovation and Its Discontents” September/October 2023, “Foreign Affairs”)

Based on Cole’s article, “These fears overshadow the potential of the new technology.” Cole’s view is “How societies imagine the role of technology is almost as important as the technology itself.” She believes that society’s focus should be on how AI can improve human life rather than how it might destroy it. The potential and future of AI lies in our hands.

Here’s the Encyclopedia Britannica’s definition of AI:

“The ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings. The term is frequently applied to the project of developing systems endowed with the intellectual processes characteristic of humans, such as the ability to reason, discover meaning, generalize, or learn from past experience.”

It’s important to gain perspective. We can look at past technological breakthroughs to understand the present.

Between 1811 and 1817 weavers in Great Britain rioted and destroyed mechanized textile looms in what became known as the Luddite Riots. Their belief was that if the looms were destroyed, the weavers’ jobs would be saved. Of course, that was no solution. All the factory owners had to do was to was to acquire new looms. The weavers did not really understand how futile trying to destroy new technology really was.

Over time, new jobs were created as inexpensive machine-made textiles spread. New employment increased in marketing and sales rather than in weaving. This new technology resulted in spin-off inventions and further breakthroughs.

The development of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney was another major technological breakthrough. In 1793, this Yankee tinkerer invented a simple and cheap way to separate cotton seeds from the cotton balls. This development allowed the South to grow rich and made cotton cloth become the major U.S. export to Europe in pre-Civil War America. Of course, it also increased slavery and helped aggravate tensions between the North and the South. We are still reaping the effects of this change in our nation today over voting rights and equity conflicts.

A third example occurred when whale oil declined as a way to provide light due to overkilling of whales. Petroleum took its place along with the development of the internal combustion engine, the creation of electricity and electric lights. All these inventions brought about technological upheaval and change, and in the long-run created millions of jobs while also causing pollution and climate change. Today, technological change will see the diminishing of petroleum into renewable, non-polluting energy sources.

So, taking Cole’s concerns, how should we deal with AI? Capitalists are primarily concerned with profits, not their laborers’ welfare. Therefore, the solution lies in the strengthening of labor unions who look out for the welfare of the workers.

Government should step in with new G.I. bill-type law which spends federal tax dollars to retrain workers who have lost their jobs to AI. It should focus its attention on using the new technology to better their citizens’ lives and not let businesses run rampant as they have in the past.

Cole is right. “How societies imagine the role of technology is almost as important as the technology itself…. People become impotent in the face of new technology only if society permits it.” We need to study past technological revolutions and choose a more compassionate and well-thought-out plan to cope with technological change.

The future for AI lies in our hands and in our attitudes.