In Brief
  • In a new report, the current White House administration addresses the subject of unemployment due to automation, which is estimated to eliminate up to 47 percent of jobs.
  • Whether the solution is education and research, like the report suggests, or universal basic income, the issue is one that the Trump administration will need to address.

The White House Weighs In

In a new report, the White House makes clear its position on how best to address the expected job loss due to increased automation and better artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. This isn’t the first time that the Obama administration has proposed guidelines regarding AI, and most of what the new report recommends echoes the earlier paperPreparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence.

So, what’s this new report got to add?

Prepared and published by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy focuses specifically on the subject of job displacement. Recent reports indicate that about 47 percent of jobs will eventually be replaced by automation and around 7 percent of those by 2025. The report explores three strategies to deal with this loss moving forward.

Credits: The White House
Credits: The White House

Education and Research

The report doesn’t take a hostile stance against AI and automation; in fact, it encourages the technologies. The first strategy it proposes is to invest in AI research and development, echoing Obama and the earlier White House report:

If care is taken to responsibly maximize its development, AI will make important, positive contributions to aggregate productivity growth, and advances in AI technology hold incredible potential to help the United States stay on the cutting edge of innovation. Government has an important role to play in advancing the AI field by investing in research and development.

As Obama said in an interview with WIRED, “[T]he government should add a relatively light touch, investing heavily in research and making sure there’s a conversation between basic research and applied research.” This also brings to mind the recent Senate subcommittee hearing in which industry experts urged the government to step up in making good use of AI.

Credits: Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos for WIREd
Credits: Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos for WIRED

The second strategy is in the same league as the first: Education is key.

As AI changes the nature of work and the skills demanded by the labor market, American workers will need to be prepared with the education and training that can help them continue to succeed. If the United States fails to improve at educating children and retraining adults with the skills needed in an increasingly AI-driven economy, the country risks leaving millions of Americans behind and losing its position as the global economic leader.

What About UBI?

Those following the discussions surrounding this issue are familiar with one particular solution that’s popped up quite often: universal basic income (UBI), giving every citizen a set amount of money with no strings attached to it. It is a favorite answer to the unemployment problem given by conservative thinkers like Milton Friedman and tech industry executives like Y Combinator’s Sam Altman and Tesla’s Elon Musk.

The new White House report offers a more cautious take on UBI: “Our goal should be first and foremost to foster the skills, training, job search assistance, and other labor market institutions to make sure people can get into jobs, which would much more directly address the employment issues raised by AI than would UBI.”

This sums up the paper’s third strategy, which advocates for more moderate social safety nets and government support as opposed to a UBI system.

Credits: Associate Press
Credits: AP

This all seems well and good, and it’s overall a pretty progressive approach that accepts the inevitability of AI and automation and works with it. But the most important question might be this: “Will the incoming Trump administration agree with these suggestions?”

“When you look at Trump’s stance on jobs in general, he thinks that immigration and free trade are the things that have robbed us of jobs, not automation,” Rob May, founder of Talla, a human resources automation company, tells WIRED. “It will be interesting to see if, as time goes on, the administration sees automation as something that is inevitable or if they try to put policies in place that try to fight it.”