Two prominent economists cast doubt on rosy predictions that automation will create more jobs than it destroys—unless we design AI to promote human labor.
What’s happening: Machines in recent decades have put people out of work faster than new jobs have been created, according to research by economists Daron Acemoglu (MIT) and Pascual Restrepo (Boston U). Their recent work shows:
- AI is set to continue edging out humans.
- Big tech companies rule the economy by using AI to remove humans from operations.
- They're driving AI research in the same direction
- This work comes on the heels of a Brookings Institution report concluding that automation and AI threaten a quarter of U.S. jobs.
Silver lining: It’s not inevitable that AI will continue to shrink the job market. AI can be designed to create new, high-productivity tasks for people:
- In education, AI can spot differences between students’ learning styles, generating demand for one-on-one instruction.
- In healthcare, it can analyze information that would empower providers to deliver a wider range of labor-intensive services.
- Mixed-reality tech can enable humans to perform with higher precision, potentially reclaiming roles lost to machines.
To be sure: Many academics and think tanks believe that automation will create more jobs than it destroys. Employment typically grows despite waves of industrialization and computerization.
Yes, but: Walmart is beefing up its robot workforce to track stock, clean floors, and unload trucks. Some 900 stores are being outfitted to let customers pick up orders on their own. Executives said they’ll hire more workers to run ecommerce operations to compete with Amazon.