…nearer than you think.

The Logic — Overview

533089439463 21.           Artificial intelligence is advancing at an accelerating rate, powered by its own explosive growth capabilities and the it’s-going-to-hit-a-wall defying “Moore’s Law.” Ray Kurzweil is most probably right, and deserves credit for his foresight.

2.         AI will drive the growth of robotics, nano-manufacturing, nano-robotics and bio-technology advances. These related technologies will combine with AI over the next several years and disseminate through the economy.  Max Tegmnark’s “Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” is a good place to start.

3.        AI will continue to be presented to society on the basis of the immense benefits — the “radical abundance” — it is expected the yield. One of the foremost examples is the focus on the medical field, the overall improvement of health, and the extension of life. These benefits are still largely yet to be delivered and, so far, are financially out of reach for all but the most well-off

Nevertheless, the good intentions of these AI proponents should not be doubted or discounted.

4.       One of the undisguised benefits of AI is the relentless improvement of economic production of goods and services and the consequent dislocation/replacement of the workforce.   (This force has been driving unemployment at an increasing rate for the past several years). McKinsey Global Institute, PwC, and others have forecast 30% or more AI-related unemployment (MGI calls it “displacement”) in the next several years to a decade unless new jobs — new types of jobs, more accurately— are developed.

We estimate that between 400 million and 800 million individuals could be displaced by
automation and need to find new jobs by 2030 around the world, based on our midpoint
and earliest (that is, the most rapid) automation adoption scenarios. (MGI executive Summary, page 11)


5.       Universal basic income (UBI) has been suggested by economists and technologists close to the AI discussion as means to address the impending workforce dislocation. The most commonly suggested is $1,000 per person. The source of funding for the UBI is a matter of discussion and debate, but would inevitably have to be the “one per-centers” or more likely the five or ten per-centers. The tax debate would, no doubt, be lively.

6.       Putting aside questions of self-worth and human dignity, $1,000 per person is clearly insufficient support for the unemployed. Consequently, life-long education is the typically suggested complementary policy proposed, especially low cost, skills-oriented community college education.

Little has been written about the obvious apparent inadequacy of such policy: what skills could possibly be taught that would get ahead of AI, which will have a vastly superior ability to acquire new skills? A common response is the realm of human creativity, response that rings hollow. This author is unaware of any attempts to define such a policy and how the economy might be restructured.  This author is also looking over his shoulder toward the AI that will write better novels and blogs.

One more point…the past examples of employment resilience following the pain of dislocation neglect the key consideration why it will be different this time: the speed of change.

7.        Much has been written about what humans will do if their input is no longer necessary to the economy. Is employment of some sort and the associated sense of self-support and fulfillment a necessary part of life and psychological fulfillment? These discussions rarely refer to the real world examples of educated and uneducated, aimless males in the Mid-East, Africa, parts of Europe and elsewhere. Think ISIS and Boko Haram.

8.        No one has clearly or even vaguely outlined how a consumer based economy will function or beneficially evolve if consumers lack income. Neither has anyone outlined what sort of functioning economy would emerge from the present consumer economy and at the same time deliver the promised panoply of AI riches to humanity.

9.        This coming tidal wave of economic upheaval has been christened the “economic singularity” by Calum Chace in his accessible and well-reasoned book “The Economic Singularity: Artificial Intelligence and the Death of Capitalism.”  A much more optimistic but very helpful book is “The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies” by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

10.      The resulting economic and social disruption in the United States alone will be without precedent in scope and intensity and will stretch beyond throughout the world.

More to come.

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