Only Humans Need Apply: Job Prospects Following Advances in AI

Written by Guest Post, Lisa A. Hayes

This post was authored primarily by CDT Summer 2016 intern Elaine Chou.


“America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”

– Harry S. Truman

Last week, in response to a Request for Information from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, CDT submitted a report on “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence” (“AI”). Our comments focused on how the government can reduce inequality in the workforce and promote societal progress as AI advances. CDT believes in the power of AI, and suggests policy improvements specifically to: (1) use AI for public good, (2) address social and economic implications caused by AI, and (3) harness AI with scientific and technical training.

The growth of AI and the broader machine learning environment risk economic disruption similar to that resulting from previous technological leaps.1 However, CDT is confident that a prepared and responsive government can help mitigate the effects. The goal is to reduce “job polarization” — the disappearance of jobs typically considered middle-class — as the availability of and skills required for non-automated jobs increase, and to provide assistance to U.S. workers with jobs most vulnerable to potential automation. Instead of replacing jobs, our research suggests that AI will require workers to gain complementary skills that focus on human traits, such as talent, creativity, empathy, and compassion. For this talent revolution to take place, our society will need to profoundly change its approach to education, skills, employment, and cross-industry and cross-sector collaboration.

CDT believes that AI has incredible potential to be used for public good. However, reliable algorithmic decision-making requires robust datasets, which are often created based on human decisions about what information is important. The best methods for ensuring that datasets produce accurate forecasts include minimizing unintended algorithmic bias by promoting a workforce that reflects the diversity in age, gender, culture, and ethnicity of the people that the technologies serve, and involving that workforce in every stage of the AI building and deployment process.

Further, the human engine of entrepreneurship and innovation will help the economy excel. The government should promote innovative endeavors that combine creative and analytical approaches, and reward collaboration across disciplines by providing new ways for resulting products to get to the market. For instance, the internet allows for innovative ways to market goods, content, and services to consumers. Small businesses and the arts and entertainment sectors will flourish as AI grows, as social media and online platforms — which are essential to AI — help them succeed. Online platforms and service providers can reduce transaction costs and time-to-launch for new businesses. Additionally, government should promote an infrastructure that encourages creativity and includes access to tools that allow artists to create content. It should also foster a receptive legal environment that supports balanced intellectual property freedoms, fair use, and adequate protections that reward creativity. Finally, accountability can be realized when transparency and methods for measuring the success of those infrastructures are established. Creating a method for measuring output in the creative economy ensures that contemporary policies reinforce innovation and future growth.

CDT’s comments largely focus on AI’s social and economic implications, advocating for timely and responsive government action. In doing so, CDT recommends that the government fund creative, just-in-time education models by incentivizing lifelong learning and promoting social and collaborative skills training. The government should also encourage multidisciplinary education and provide grants for individuals to hone skills and build high-level expertise and specialization.

Other methods to mitigate the social and economic effects of AI include connecting individuals with affordable, consistent, and reliable high-speed internet and managing skills disruption by transitioning the workforce. Suggestions for reinvigorating the workforce include providing paid mid-career internships, promoting collaboration between the private and public sectors, reinvigorating programs like Americorps Vista to focus on technology, and furthering MakerSpace do-it-yourself communities. Additional policymaking around worker safety-net protections and education in ethics and civics would impact how workers interact in the new AI economy.

The advent of AI calls for bold leadership and strategic action. AI creates attractive working conditions, greater workplace safety, flexibility, equality, and employee autonomy. It holds the potential to encourage civic participation, freeing human creativity to focus on to solving some of the world’s most complex problems. Because logic cannot transcend itself, AI will “never rival the deep complexity of the human mind,” argues Deepak Chopra. Consciousness transcends logic; humans gain wisdom and insight from their experiences. As such, the advent of algorithmic learning and autonomous mechanization yields a new era of burgeoning jobs — jobs best performed with talent, imagination, and social collaboration, to which only humans need apply.

1 While there are many competing definitions of “AI,” for the purpose of this filing, CDT accepted the government’s broader call to look at deep learning and machine learning when filing its response. This report encourages the government to promote broader public understanding of technical AI jargon, such as differences between machine learning, robotics, deep learning and deep neural networks, so that Americans understand the field as it evolves.

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