Not too long ago A.I. was the future. Now we live in a time where the distance between the present and the future is blurred, where the time between concept and reality seems to shorten by the day. We already live in a world where the way we interact with each other socially, romantically and politically has changed immeasurably and irreversibly. But we now find ourselves at a point where the heart of the social contract is to be ripped up and rewritten in answer to the question: What do we do when the robots make us redundant?
This is no longer an existential issue, it is a concrete problem. A report by The World Economic Forum posits that over 5 million jobs will be lost in just 4 years due to artificial intelligence. A 2013 paper by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne concludes that in just 20 years, up to 47% of jobs are at risk.
It is now old-fashioned, quaint even, to talk of A.I. simply in terms of it being superb at routine, repetitive tasks; the wolf at the door of sectors such as manufacturing. We are in an era of deep learning that is putting artificial intelligence in a position to blaze a trail through every sector. And quickly. The upshot is that there is no clear delineation within that 47% between jobs that are at risk, and jobs that are not.
At the recent World Government summit, Elon Musk spoke about the danger of so many people becoming unemployed at such a rapid pace, that the concept of a universal basic income will be forced by necessity to become a reality. The issues surrounding what a UBI world would look like is a gigantic topic in itself. Although interestingly enough, a UBI is already being trialled in the real world, with Finland testing the concept initially for two years. What is clear is that in a global society that will be dealing with huge upheavals in the world of work, the definition and concept of what a wage is could change beyond comprehension; and that is one of the biggest unknowns we have faced in a long, long time.
To take one example of a huge societal impact, how does the housing ladder look in such a world? Does the concept of a housing ladder even stand up to scrutiny in this possible new world? Imagine the political discourse around what level a UBI would be set at. Remember where the profit for goods bought will continue to flow. What will inequality truly look like in the coming decades on a global scale.
“The next wave of economic dislocation won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes many good, middle-class jobs obsolete…And so we must forge a new social compact – to guarantee all our kids the education they need.”
The above words are those of Barack Obama during his farewell address. The guarantee of ensuring all children have the right education to succeed in the new world of the fourth industrial revolution is of course a necessity and a fundamental human right, but is education and retraining possible for the amount of people who will be losing their jobs imminently? When we then factor in the backlog of those future generations, where the world will still be in state of flux, the spectre of a post traditional wage-for-work world becomes even greater.
Where there are advancements there are paradoxes, but the paradox of the extreme advancements of A.I. versus the negative impact on humans is so drastic, so life changing, that we need to have more human voices for human concerns and human rights. It is impossible that we as a collective species are prepared for this; not one government could in good faith say that things are in place for such events . Unchecked advancements in artificial intelligence – and our relentless drive of adopting such advancements into the fabric of our society – are a very real, very serious threat to life as we know it. We need to treat it as such.