We Must Create Strategies to Protect Human Workers as an “Endangered Species”

Barnhizer the Elder: Our “bottom line” in The Artificial Intelligence Contagion is simple.  If we do not get a handle on the processes of change and make strong, fast and accurate decisions that at least slow or shape the transformation, then Western society as we know it is going to collapse. [BTY – or change irretrievably into a culture that will not support Western ideals such as democracy and the Rule of Law]. A mix of aggressive public and private initiatives are required to respond to the significant and growing challenges of AI/robotics.

We are experiencing quantum leaps in AI/robotics capabilities, including surveillance, military and weapons technologies, autonomous self-driving vehicles, massive job elimination, data management and privacy invasion, medical breakthroughs and even human augmentation through such things as implants, “add-ons” and the merging of people with AI and robotics. Science fiction has already become fact and the AI/robotic evolutionary process is accelerating beyond anyone’s control.  As this occurs it is transforming us as individuals, and our societies as collective entities. These changes are undermining democratic cultures and destroying jobs in extremely large numbers.  According to intellectual and business leaders such as Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Yuval Noah Harari, Nick Bostrom, Max Tegmark, Elon Musk and others, the rise of Artificial Intelligence accompanied by robotic systems could ultimately end up with the destruction of the human race.  Long before this happens, however, our cultures, societies, selves and political relationships will be altered profoundly in ways we are not prepared to adequately understand or cope.

There have been three major industrial revolutions before what some are now referring to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution being driven by AI/robotics. The first of the three revolutions harnessed steam power. The second was based on electricity. The third industrial revolution developed through electronics, computing power, and the Internet. In each of these previous industrial revolutions, the process took place relatively slowly compared to what we are now experiencing with the linking of Artificial Intelligence systems and robotics controlled and directed by AI. The first three industrial revolutions generated what was described by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter as “creative destruction” in which although significant economic and social turmoil occurred as the transformation unfolded, the eventual outcome was increased productivity, jobs, and wealth. Destroyed jobs were replaced by needs in other areas, often utilizing skill sets similar to those required in the lost jobs. 

With AI/robotics—the Fourth Industrial Revolution—destroyed employment is less likely to be replaced by new forms of work in sufficient numbers. In a 2013 study of the massive impacts of computerization on human jobs, The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?Oxford economists Carl Frey and Michael Osborne indicate that the AI/robotics shift is not like others we have experienced.  Unlike other economic transformations, there won’t be a significant employment recovery on the other side of the downturn.  They highlight this fact by observing: “This raises questions about: (a) the ability of human labour to win the race against technology by means of education; and (b) the potential extent of technological unemployment, as an increasing pace of technological progress will cause higher job turnover, resulting in a higher natural rate of unemployment.” [i]

The 2013 study by Frey and Osborne put probable US job loss by 2030 at 47 percent. No society is equipped to deal with such an economic nightmare.  This is particularly so in extraordinarily complex systems such as in the US and EU. Such systems have expensive subsidy and safety net obligations that cannot be met if predictions of job loss are anywhere close to being correct. The only rational answer is to develop policies and programs that prevent or at least mitigate the impending collapse of human employment.

Like Frey and Osborne, Howard Schneider concludes that what is occurring with AI/robotics is different from past economic revolutions. [ii]  In that regard, he asks: “has the nation’s ability to generate well-paying jobs in manufacturing and other sectors been fundamentally scarred by changes in the global economy that may predate the 2008-2009 economic crisis but were more starkly revealed in its aftermath?”[iii]

Schneider then goes on to indicate that, as observed by an Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank President, we are facing something outside human experience.  The result of what is now occurring could be “a workforce based on large numbers of lower paid workers, with a few highly paid managers, professional and technology workers, and a permanent hollowing out of the middle class.[iv]There are numerous signs this radical transformation of work is real and accelerating.  The feared hollowing out of the middle class with former members of that socioeconomic niche sliding downward continues apace. Rolls Royce is cutting 4,000 middle management employees in addition to another 600 senior management workers cut loose only months ago.[v]  Citi Bank just announced that it was considering eliminating 10,000 “tech and ops” staff due to developments in AI and robots. Deutsche Bank already warned that half of its 90,000 employees could lose their jobs due to AI.[vi]  General Motors is following the same path and Ford just announced in May 2019 that it was cutting 7,000 jobs, 10% of its global managerial workforce.  

Tesla just announced it will cut 9% of its 40,000 worker staff and that those losing their jobs will be in salaried and management positions, not production.[vii]  China is in the process of eliminating 1.8 million jobs in its steel industry, shifting a significant part of its production activities to AI/robotics systems, and roboticizing significant parts of its higher tech production industries, cutting 40 to 50% of the workers in those sectors.  This pattern continues in many large companies.  Given that many production line workers have already been cut loose as companies adopt AI/robotics manufacturing systems, continuing improvements in AI systems have allowed manufacturing and service companies to eliminate substantial numbers of middle managers. The normally optimistic Jack Ma, the CEO of the Chinese technological giant Alibaba, recently stated that Artificial Intelligence will cause people more pain over the coming decades rather than bringing them happiness and a feeling of social and economic security.  Ma warns: “Social conflicts in the next three decades will have an impact on all sorts of industries and walks of life. … Ma adds: “A key social conflict will be the rise of artificial intelligence and longer life expectancy, which will lead to an aging workforce fighting for fewer jobs.”[viii]

[i]http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf.  Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?” 9/13/13.   

[ii]http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/08/11/today-s-tech-oligarchs-are-worse-than-the-robber-barons.html. Joel Kotkin, “Today’s Tech Oligarchs Are Worse Than the Robber Barons”, 8/11/16. 

[iii]http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-economy-employment-insight-idUSKBN0GB0NF20140811.  Howard Schneider, “For largest U.S. companies, jobs growth has lagged profits, revenues”, Business News, 8/11/14.  

[iv]Schneider, “For largest U.S. companies, jobs growth has lagged profits, revenues”, Business News, id.  

[v]https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jun/10/rolls-royce-set-to-announce-more-than-4000-job-cuts.  “Rolls-Royce set to announce more than 4,000 job cuts: Aero-engine maker attempts to increase profits by losing middle-management posts”, Simon Goodley, 6/10/18.

[vi]https://www.finextra.com/newsarticle/32240/10000-jobs-could-be-lost-to-robots-says-citi.  “10,000 jobs could be lost to robots says Citi”,6/12/18.  “US bank Citi has warned that it could shed half of its 20,000 tech and ops staff in the next five years due to the rise of robotics and automation.”

[vii]https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jun/12/tesla-staff-cuts-restructuring-model-3-elon-musk. “Tesla to cut 9% of staff as Elon Musk’s electric car company seeks profitability: CEO says thousands of job losses are part of a ‘difficult, but necessary’ restructuring.”  Julie Carrie Wong, 6/12/18.

[viii]https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/apr/24/alibaba-jack-ma-artificial-intelligence-more-pain-than-happiness.  “Alibaba founder Jack Ma: AI will cause people ‘more pain than happiness’:”, Olivia Solon, 4/24/17.