An Opposing View

Numerous researchers have predicted how a lot of jobs could be taken over by automation in the near future, potentially leading to massive unemployment. The numbers and timeline vary — some reports say it could be 7 percent of jobs in the next decade, others predict 850,000 jobs by 2030 — and indeed, one could argue that it is already happening.

The advent of automation has brought with it experts in various fields advocating for a universal basic income (UBI) to help people through their potential unemployment brought about by artificial intelligence (AI). Proponents argue that giving every citizen a lump sum of money could solve poverty while those on the other side of the argument insist that it could hurt the taxpayers more.

Now, one person particularly well-suited to weigh in on the discussion has said that current advancements in AI don't justify the implementation of a UBI.

Vincent Conitzer, a professor of computer science, economics, and philosophy at Duke University, says in an MIT article that while current advances in the field of AI have been impressive, the tech still couldn't replace a human being at most jobs. He argues that current AI systems have difficulty in understanding social norms and cannot pick up on subtle social cues. He points to an AI's difficulty in language as an example:

Current AI systems do not have a broad understanding of the world, including our social conventions, and they lack common sense. Language understanding is a good example of the problem; it is remarkably hard to get computers to answer many types of simple questions.

Conitzer also argues that current AI systems do not yet have the capability of true abstraction, saying that they cannot examine their own reasoning and generalize what's going on. It is because of this that he sees AI as not being creative enough. He uses Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo and DeepDream to point out that the ability of these systems to think outside the box "is not the kind of creativity that truly gives one a new perspective on the situation at hand."

All in all, Conitzer says, AI systems have difficulty working in the real world. An AI worker may be able to do a specific, well-defined job sufficiently, but it still cannot replace a person who can do similar tasks in a messier real world. Therefore, he does not see the need for a basic income yet.

Credit: Michael Tyka

Cautious Optimism

Conitzer does see a future in which AI could eliminate some jobs because parts of those jobs could be done by an automated system. However, he says most jobs, like therapists, counselors, and kindergarten teachers, are immune because they require a general understanding of the world and its people, which is a skill that current AI systems have difficulty replicating.

While Conitzer does admit that AI could progress much faster than he anticipates, he does not see the technology surpassing human capabilities in the short term. "The idea that recent progress in AI will prevent most people from meaningfully contributing to society is nonsense," he insists. However, he also advises that people still monitor and prepare for developments in AI:

We may have to make some changes in the way society works, including making it easier for displaced workers to retrain, and perhaps at times increasing public spending on (say) carefully selected infrastructure projects to counterbalance job losses in the private sector. We should also be mindful that advances in AI may come unexpectedly, and do our best to prepare and make society resilient to such shocks.

While preparing for the future of AI is good advice in theory, we won't truly know how the tech will change society in general (and the workforce in particular) until it happens. In the meantime, don't quit your day job.

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