Prophecies and Utopia
As automation improves, alarm bells have been ringing on the elimination of millions of jobs all around the world due to automation. In fact, already there have been discussions going round concerning a national fund so that the newly unemployed can meet their daily needs. The reasoning is sound, AI is going to displace a lot of people from their jobs. While companies owning this technology will be more productive there will be nobody to buy their products since most will have little to nothing in terms of income. The global economy then collapses.
Open AI CEO Sam Altman, one of the major proponents of the idea of a national fund describes a model where “we could do something called the American Equity Fund. The American Equity Fund would be capitalized by taxing companies above a certain valuation 2.5% of their market value each year, payable in shares transferred to the fund, and by taxing 2.5% of the value of all privately-held land, payable in dollars.”
Famous futurist Jacque Fresco takes this idea much further with his proposed ‘resource-based economy’. Just like Sam Altman’s model, ultimate value is based on capital i.e AI and natural resources, mainly land.
Fresco was one of the first people to sound the alarm on AI and its effect on employment and productivity. In his utopian model, resources are distributed according to need which is determined by a complex system of technologies such as AI and IoT.
While these ideas may sound a little unrealistic, they at least try to address a big question facing humankind all over the globe, the problem of inequality. Tech companies such as Amazon, Apple, Microsoft have produced much of the technologies that we enjoy today, they have also created a lot of wealth for the people owning these companies. 7 of the 10 richest people in the world are founders of tech companies. What this indicates is that the dominant source of future wealth will be created from capital, in the form of AI. As such the people who develop and/or own these technologies will benefit from it the most.
It thus makes sense for governments to actively invest in these technologies. Sam Altman envisions a model where governments purchase shares in various tech companies so that the profits can then be distributed equally to every citizen. A precursor to this is the sovereign wealth funds, of which Norway is top-dog. The country holds over $1 trillion in assets invested all over the world. The fund is managed by the Norwegian Central Bank which holds and invests it on behalf of the people of Norway.
Co-operation and Evolution
Another and, dare I say, better prediction of the future of man and AI is one of co-operation and inclusive growth. As with technologies developed in the past, human beings will learn to leverage AI to create new opportunities and ultimately new sources of wealth.
Moreover, while AI may have eliminated a lot of traditional jobs it has created a lot of new ones. In fact, many predict that the jobs created by increased use of AI in the global economy will far outweigh the ones it automates in both number and quality.
Youpal Group CTO Ruben Teijeiro had an interesting take on this: “I think people should change in the future jobs and new career paths scene. It’s not true that AI will take over people’s jobs. It’s already demonstrated that creative jobs can’t easily or accurately be performed by a machine. Only humans can be naturally creative which will lead to the raise of new jobs related to creativity and innovation. Remember that machines must be programmed, trained and tested by humans which will open new opportunities for people to initiate their career in the IT industry.”
Here, he highlights an important issue: creativity. While there have been reports of AI able to compose music or even write stories, it is nothing close to what human beings have been able to do. As it stands, we are nowhere close to creating an algorithm that can recreate the works of William Shakespeare or compose a sonata like Mozart. Most of the AI created today are task driven, built for repetitive mundane work that frankly no human being enjoys doing.
The more probable future is that AI and robots will take on the more ‘boring’ work so that human beings are left to do more creative fulfilling work. The challenge however is whether workers displaced by machines will be able to transition fast enough for the new economy.