💡 5 Quick Questions for … economist Anton Korinek on AI and the end of the Age of (Human) Labor
"I think it is prudent and reasonable to prepare for the possibility that human labor will largely be replaced by the second half of the 21st century."
The machines have never taken all the jobs. There’s always been lots more for humans to do — and lots more that only humans could do. But past results don’t guarantee future outperformance by carbon-based lifeforms. And even though being too early is kinda the same as being wrong, maybe the automation alarmists will eventually be right. In the June NBER working paper “Preparing for the (Non-Existent?) Future of Work,” economist Anton Korinek and researcher Megan Juelfs, both of the University of Virginia, note “concerns that advances in artificial intelligence and related technologies may substitute for a growing fraction of workers, presenting significant challenges for the future of work.” (I’ve previously written about the paper.)
It’s a thought-provoking study that gets around to recommending a universal basic income to redistribute the gains of a robot takeover while acknowledging that work is about more than a paycheck. To take a deeper dive, I reached out to Korinek to get more of his thoughts on AI and the future of work with 5 Quick Questions — and then five more! No extra charge to you, dear subscribers!
Anton Korinek is a professor in the Department of Economics and at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. He is also a David M. Rubenstein Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
1/ The optimistic take on artificial intelligence is that AI will create more high-skill, high-paying jobs. But most Americans don't have a college degree. What can we do for them, besides a universal basic income?
Let me take this in two parts. First, it was true in the past few decades that technological advances created more high-skill, high-paying jobs and benefited people with college degrees. But it's yet to be determined if this will also be true in the future. Some are concerned that the most recent advances in AI may actually go primarily after what used to be called high-skilled jobs. If this happens, then all American workers will be pushed into lower-skilled jobs, and whether you have a college degree or not won't really matter.
Second, if automation does reduce the job opportunities and wages of large parts of the population, we need to think about big solutions if we want to avoid big social turmoil. A universal basic income is not the only big solution — we can also think of broadly distributed capital ownership, etc.
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