On Point: Issue Adviser the AI Debate We Need
By Sami Mahroum  |  Jun 29, 2021
On Point: Issue Adviser the AI Debate We Need
Image courtesy of and under license from Shutterstock.com
The biggest change that AI will bring concerns employment. If AI technologies can deliver most needed goods and services at less cost, why spend precious time laboring? The question for a fully automated future is whether jobs can be delinked from incomes, and incomes delinked from consumption.

PARIS - A day hardly goes by without one hearing about a new study describing the far-reaching implications of advances in artificial intelligence (AI). AI applications are poised to change people’s lives in ways scarcely imaginable, according to countless consultancies, think tanks, and Silicon Valley celebrities.

The biggest change concerns employment. Speculation is rife about how many jobs will soon fall victim to automation, but most forecasters agree it will be millions. Not just blue-collar jobs are at stake. So, too, are highly-skilled white-collar professions like law, accounting, and medicine. Entire industries could be disrupted or decimated and traditional institutions such as universities might have to downsize or close.

Such concerns are understandable. In the current political economy, jobs are the main vehicle for wealth creation and income distribution. When people have jobs, they have the means to consume, which drives production forward. Unsurprisingly, debates about AI center on the prospect of mass unemployment and forms of compensation that may become necessary in future. To better understand what AI will mean for the economic future requires a look past the headlines.

The AI revolution need not “conjure doom-and-gloom scenarios about the future of work,” so long as governments rise to the challenge of equipping workers “with the right skills” to prepare them for future market needs, for Nobel laureate economist Christopher Pissarides and Jacques Bughin of the McKinsey Global Institute, who remind that job displacement from new technologies is nothing new, and often comes in waves. “But throughout that process,” they note, “productivity gains have been reinvested to create new innovations, jobs, and industries, driving economic growth as older, less productive jobs are replaced with more advanced occupations.”

SAP CEO Bill McDermott is similarly optimistic, seeing “nothing to be gained f

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