Artificial intelligence is quickly coming of age and there remain lingering questions about how we will manage this change.
AI will eliminate some jobs, there’s no question, but it will also create some new ones. So the first question we will face as business people, workers and citizens is about balance: are we going to create more jobs than we eliminate or not?
The second and much more fundamental question is: how are we going to proactively manage our AI investments so we can use AI to create new jobs or career opportunities for the future? And how will we make sure those jobs reach out to various sectors of our society increasing our overall wealth and well being and not overly increasing the inequities that already exist in our society.
I believe if we think about it strategically and if we engage more people in the design of AI systems, we’ll be able to make this transition successfully. It will require a proactive strategy. The American public and people all over the world have been shown the negative consequences of not being proactive—take global trade for example. The benefits of global trade have not been widely shared and we are now witnessing the effects of the anger and frustrations this has produced in the movement to more extreme politics and the deeper social divisions laid bare by recent events. We can’t make the same mistake about the future developments of technology.
Harnessing the benefits of AI technologies will require that decisions are not made only by a very narrow band of technology designers, business leaders and would-be-entrepreneurs. That’s why I’m such a strong advocate of reimagining, rekindling and re-empowering worker voices in our society and in our workplaces. The full spectrum of workers ought to have a voice in how information and big data are being used.
We’ll have to start by rebuilding the voice of workers. I don’t just mean bring back trade unions. Unions will continue to have an important role in the future but we also have to invent new ways in which workers have a voice in how we use these new technologies.
Suppose we think about ride service businesses, Uber for example. There’s a reaction to Uber’s narrow use of AI, its big data system and GPS technologies; they are ultimately the internet of things (IoT) in ride services. They brought all of these technologies together but they’ve done so only for the benefit of owners and investors who are driving up the valuation of Uber in capital markets.
Yes they serve consumers, they have improved the opportunity for people to access more efficient transportation, but they’ve done so on the back of the drivers. You see more and more of a revolt by drivers and cities around the world that say, “Yes you disrupted the industry, but you’re doing so at the expense of some key stakeholders, we’re going to rebalance that.”
So we can rethink our ride services in ways that benefit the consumer and provide a return on investment, but also provide better jobs and career opportunities.
Driverless cars are another good example. Driverless cars are not the goal; they are a tool. If we ask how we can introduce these technologies incrementally and in the long run to improve our transportation system, then we’ll get a whole range of options. We’ll think about how to integrate the vehicles with the sensors and the community investments that are needed, in our roads and structures, to support it. We’ll think about how we can extend transportation out into areas that are underserved today or better serve parts of our population like the elderly or children. We need to think about the use of AI and associated technologies for transportation, and then we’ll shift away from this silly race to try to produce “driverless cars”. Technology assisted driving, with varying levels of human input will find its own place in a safer and more inclusive transportation ecosystem. If we don’t have this discussion, we’re going to have more of a division between the winners and the losers in the race with technology. We’re going to take what we experienced with Brexit or Trump and multiply it.
That’s the alternative future, and yes some people will be winners, gigantic winners; meaning greater inequality, more angry and disenchanted people, and more members of the next generation left behind. It will not be a picture that will strengthen our societies or make us proud citizens. I worry enormously about the consequences of that trajectory.
We don’t have to go down that road, but if we are passive and let practices prevail the way they are now, that trajectory may well dominate our future. I think we need to do everything we can to avoid it.
Read the original post at InfoTechnology (in Spanish).
Thomas Kochan is the George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management.