Will Robots Take Our Jobs?

This year at BIL San Francisco 2017, talks such as “When the Robots Don’t Work”, “Are Robots Trying to Kill Us?”, and “Why AI Works – The Epistemology of Deep Learning” take on a subject similar to presentations given at BIL Oakland 2016, for example, the “Will Robots Take Our Jobs? panel”

Julia Bossman argued that, given an explosion in robots and AI, there will be massive unemployment, with Timothy Roscoe Carter arguing that we need a basic income to protect people from such unemployment. Edward Miller questioned the assumption that AI will permanently replace human labor, instead arguing that AI will cause disruptions that temporarily displace workers as they attempt to provide their ‘comparative advantage’, referencing the classical economist David Ricardo.

Miller goes on to state that Ricardo’s Law of Comparative Advantage, demonstrating that even parties who are worse at producing everything (e.g. futuristic humans) will still be involved in the productive economy. This is true even if the other parties, in this case robots, are vastly better at producing everything.

Bolstering his point with an example, he said that there are even cases of de-automation especially in poor nations where labor is much cheaper. Miller went on to say that basic income will tend to increase people’s rent, such that the benefit provided by a basic income will be siphoned off by people who own high-value land in places like the San Francisco Bay Area. He cites a similar dynamic in the Bay Area where an increase in many people’s wages have simply driven up rent.

It was mentioned in the panel that humans in the future will likely not be separate from AI, leveraging it to augment their own intelligence as cyborgs, as opposed to a disembodied super-computer. Perhaps AI will not “take” our jobs because we will merge with them.

Andrés Gómez Emilsson questioned the panel’s assumption about what humans would even desire in a world with advanced AI, saying that such advancement would enable humans to fundamentally alter their own motivational systems, indeed human nature, not to mention our economic systems. This tied in with Miller’s statement about barring fantastical futuristic scenarios like in The Terminator, ones where robots literally try to exterminate humans, and in effect do a lot more than merely take our jobs. A more sober view is one in which land, natural resources, and other fundamental aspects of political economy persist, regardless of technological advancement. In such a scenario, It was argued that a land value tax would be the best way to fund a basic income because, as the basic income bids up rent, these higher land values would be continuously recollected via the tax to fund increasingly higher levels of basic income.


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