On Tuesday, the US government continued a national conversation on the impact of artificial intelligence on the workforce.
The new White House report, Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy, serves as a follow-up to its October report, Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence, which looked at the role of government in the development and implementation of artificial intelligence. It's an effort by the US government to address the huge impact automation is currently having on jobs—which promises to be felt more deeply as artificial intelligence advances.
The report explores the history and impact of automation on the economy, and looks at jobs that could be lost or gained from artificial intelligence. It also outlines three policy strategies meant to help prevent automation from taking jobs away from humans.
- Invest in and develop AI for its many benefits
- Educate and train Americans for jobs of the future
- Aid workers in the transition and empower workers to ensure broadly shared growth
It's impossible to argue that an investment toward advancing AI technology, and training Americans to take those jobs, isn't a good thing: From cybersecurity to fraud detection to cost-savings, advances in AI can help keep America running safely and efficiently.
Another important point in this section of the report is the emphasis on diversity in tech. "The lack of gender and racial diversity in the AI-specific workforce mirrors the significant and problematic lack of diversity in the technology industry and the field of computer science more generally. Unlocking the full potential of the American people, especially in entrepreneurship, as well as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, has been a priority of the Administration," the report stated.
But Vincent Conitzer, computer science professor at Duke University, is concerned with the third strategy. He said he believes it could be seen as left-leaning, "unnecessarily alienating those on the other side." For instance, it includes an argument to raise the minimum wage—which is not necessarily AI-related—and "does not even mention the common concern that raising the minimum wage will accelerate the automation of jobs," he said.
SEE: The future of AI in the US: What it could look like in the Trump Administration (TechRepublic)
Conitzer said he does not believe a universal basic income—a hotly debated topic— should be a preferred strategy at this point, and thinks that "much can be achieved via upgrading, for example, unemployment insurance and retraining programs," as the report outlines. Still, he said "the report did not do a good job of arguing the relative effectiveness of the various approaches in this strategy." While the research is still sparse in these areas, he said he worries that people will see it as "a ruse to achieve left-wing objectives, while in reality this should be an issue of serious bipartisan concern."
He also expects to see "a discussion of mitigating sudden unemployment through increased government spending," said Conitzer. "Even with significant progress in AI, we could usefully employ many more people in areas like child care, education, mentoring, nursing, and the environment."
Other AI experts also weighed in with concerns.
Roman Yampolskiy, director of the University of Louisville's Cybersecurity Lab, sees the report as nothing beyond a "reaction to increasing progress in AI."
SEE: How will AI impact jobs? High-powered panel tackles the big question (TechRepublic)
"Instead of providing leadership, they are only looking at very short-term developments and are limiting their analysis to employment and economy," he said. "This is like analyzing the impact from a nuclear war, and concentrating on the number of shops which would close as a result of a nuclear bombing."
Yampolskiy said the report "ignores long-term impacts of AI, safety issues and impact of superintelligent AI on all aspects of our life. Even within the narrow framework of automation and economy, the report seems to fail to fully grasp the impact from AI."
As for the "status quo" recommendations in the report, like increasing the minimum wage and strengthening labor unions, these approaches "made sense in the last century, but are likely to be harmful in the face of the upcoming technological unemployment," he said.
Toby Walsh, professor of AI at the University of New South Wales, said that while the report acknowledges an important problem, he is "not sure the report offers enough to reduce the damaging inequalities that have opened up within the US as well as in many other nations," he said. "The rich have got much richer. And future technological change, in the winner-takes-all economy of today, will only make the problem worse."
"This threatens the very fabric of our democracies," said Walsh. "It needs bold acts from bold politicians to counter."
- AI experts weigh in on the White House approach to artificial intelligence (TechRepublic)
- White House honors 5 technology innovators with the Presidential Medal of Freedom (TechRepublic)
- White House announces $300M in tech funding for digital health, smart cities, AI, and getting us to Mars (TechRepublic)
- Artificial Intelligence and IT: The good, the bad and the scary (Tech Pro Research)
- Obama's report on the future of artificial intelligence: The main takeaways (ZDNet)
Hope Reese has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Hope Reese is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers the intersection of technology and society, examining the people and ideas that transform how we live today.