• LughOPMA
    526 days ago

    This article is remarkable for two reasons. First, three of the economists it interviews work for an MIT-affiliated body called The Institute for the Future of Work. It is their job to be global leaders in thought on this issue. They are the best of the best the academic discipline of Economics has to offer. Secondly, this article puts the central question to them unequivocally. - “What happens after AI/robots are capable of doing all work (even new as yet uninvented jobs), but are much cheaper to employ than humans?”

    The central argument they’re replying to is that an economic concept called comparative advantage means jobs are safe from AI. The argument is that as computers will remain a scarce resource, super-intelligent AI won’t want to waste resources on doing “lesser” work, and will leave that to less capable humans. It hasn’t occurred to the economist proposing this idea that computing won’t be a scarce resource as it’s always getting cheaper, and more powerful.

    One, David Autor, says AI won’t ever be better than humans, instead, it will give all humans new skills, so that everyone will have the economic advantages the highly educated now have. Another, Ethan Mollick, is at least honest in admitting economists don’t know what the future will be like when AI can do all work. One of the IFTFW economists, Pascal Restrepo, agrees with the idea of comparative advantage. He says AI will create vast wealth, but even the crumbs the owners of that AI give to humans to do the lesser work AI is not interested in will make us all richer than we are today.

    So in summary. One economist who isn’t aware computers are getting cheaper. Another who doesn’t think AI will get better. Another who doesn’t know what will happen (the most honest of the bunch). And another who’s cheerful about the prospect of our future economy being a new feudalism where AI’s owners benignly let the peasants (everyone else) subsist on the leftover crumbs they don’t want.

    • @h3ndrik@feddit.de
      26 days ago

      Yeah, I agree with the premise. I’ve heard the analogy with cars replacing horses before. I think it fits. And it happened fast.

      A few points where I strongly disagree:

      As long as the computing power available for A.I. is a scarce resource […]

      That’s the interesting question. Why brush over that?

      And the point:

      AI won’t ever be better than humans.

      I just skimmed the article. Couldn’t find the claim. But I think this is obviously false. It already does in some niches. And even computers with or without AI far outperform humans at all sorts of tasks. Chess, Jeopardy, communicating information, calculating speed… Just to name a few. In factories, robots and machines outperform humans in strength, speed and being precise in repetitive tasks. All of that can be combined and yields systems that outperform humans. And they’ve been there for quite some time already.

      I think AI has some potential to get us to a post-scarcity utopia. Or bring doom. For sure we’re afraid it’ll change the economy.

    • @GlitterInfection@lemmy.world
      25 days ago

      If AI is capable of doing all the jobs, then that implies it is also its own owner. Owning an AI and doling out wealth are two jobs.

      I think the “No clue what will happen” guy isn’t just honest, he’a also right. It’s territory we can’t plan for very well.

      Or to put it another way, it’s undefined behavior for our economic algorithms.

    • JackGreenEarth
      326 days ago

      People have long said that new technology only creates more jobs. To those people, I would like to direct your attention to the cart-horse. Around a hundred years ago, before electric cars, people used to go around on horses, or in carts and wagons pulled by horses. Horses were an integral part of the transport system, and most horses were employed as such, even being bred specifically to cope with higher demand on people needing to go places. With the advent of the car, large swathes of the horse population became unnecessary, and the population dwindled to a new equilibrium as fewer horses were needed in transport, but fewer horses were also bred. Compared to the busy, hard life horses had to put up with only a few decades ago, most horses nowadays, although there a fewer of them, live a life of comparative luxury, living in fields most of the day where they are free to graze, are given good food by their owners that care about them, and are only occasionally ridden by humans, and even when they are, it is far more relaxed and more of an enjoyable activity than horse-riding was when it was the only way to get somewhere, and done on a daily basis.

      Humans often have this idea that they are special. That they are the only ones that can weave cloth – until it is automated. That they are the only ones who can make pottery – until it is automated. That human labour is the only way to get power – until power production is automated with the advent of electricity. That they are the only ones can be ‘creative’, who can write stories, make art, play music – until that is automated too. True, in all those cases, humans were still involved in the process to some extent, mostly for quality control and maintenance, but far fewer humans are needed to create the same amount of stuff – whether physical goods or more ‘idea-like’ stuff such as art – than before. In fact, recent progress has shown video games that were even tested and quality controlled by AI, as well as being programmed by AI and using AI generated assets, doing away with the need for humans entirely. This is analogous to the true scenario that I outlined in the first paragraph, and is not necessarily a bad thing.

      It is quite likely that, in an impossible to predict timespan (it may be 20 years, it may be much more), humans will have developed technology with the capacity to completely create all the things we need, and more – good food, comfortable shelter, entertainment, and so on. Some will argue that this cessation of the need for humans to work will results in economic collapse and mass hardships, but this is a small minded perspective, often viewed through a capitalistic lens. The horses didn’t have a population explosion and lack of resources due to their work being gone, on the contrary, their numbers dwindled – which is not a bad thing, as long as it is through natural means, which it was, it just means that every individual has more attention and resources – and their lives improved, since they no longer had to endure hard labour every day just to survive. It is certainly attainable for the same thing to happen to us. Population growth is already falling in developed countries, and only people who are unable to image a world without human labour see this as a bad thing. If less humans work every year, and more AIs do their jobs, it balances out, and is a way to ease into a world where there is very little to no human labour, and all our needs and most of our wants are produced by AI. As much as many people dislike the sentiment, this would not work in a capitalistic world where what someone gets is dependent on what they contribute to society, for self-evident reasons (those being that no one would need to contribute anything to society if it is all being done by robots), and therefore in a world where all necessary labour is done by AI, we would have to move to a system where everyone gets resources simply by dint of existing, rather than needing to contribute anything themselves. You can call this socialism if you want, it doesn’t really matter what you call it. This system would have the benefit of reducing stress caused by the feeling that you are obligated to do something, while not removing the ability to contribute something if you want – after all, it is necessary labour that has been abolished, not all labour, and just as horses are still used as a novelty and entertainment today, and many people value hand-made pottery, food, etc., over manufactured counterparts, there is likely to still be a desire for art, objects, and stories made by humans even in such a world where all necessary labour has been abolished.

      This also deals with the counterpoint made by many that people will struggle for a sense of meaning and purpose in a world where there is no necessary labour – first of all, people struggle for meaning and purpose even when they do work necessarily, and second of all, as mentioned above, they can still do unnecessary, but still valued labour, and get the same meaning and purpose from that.

      Some people, myself included, think that although the above scenario may work in theory, in practise it would be difficult to get the billionaires and billionaires’ puppets in government to agree to such a sensible system when the huge benefit to everyone may come at a small cost to themselves – even if the cost is just ego, even if they could still keep all their material resources. I admit, I don’t see a good solution to this problem myself, but I hope we can think of one together, as this is a world many, including myself, would like to live in.

      • @chicken@lemmy.dbzer0.com
        426 days ago

        The horses didn’t have a population explosion and lack of resources due to their work being gone, on the contrary, their numbers dwindled – which is not a bad thing, as long as it is through natural means, which it was

        Afaik this is not really true; there was a mass slaughter of horses to process them into meat, glue etc. when the potential economic value of most of them fell below their upkeep costs.

        Which isn’t necessarily to say that the outcome of AI rapidly rendering the majority of humans unemployable will be cannibalism, but I think the implications of this analogy are way more grim than you are letting on. The market does not want to provide for animals or people it can’t use. If the same thing that happened with horses is going to happen to us, that is an existential threat for most people alive today, even if it isn’t a threat of outright extinction.

    • RA2lover
      125 days ago

      The premise thrown to those economists is slightly different - that AI is more productive than a human at everything, but not necessarily cheaper, then sends their different interpretations, which i’ve ended up summarizing as:

      Noah Smith: Compute will remain limited, so it’ll be directed at whatever is most profitable.
      David Autor: AI can make the big-bucks jobs available to everyone, but they still need to Git Gud and figure out how to harness AI for them… Until everyone does. Pray “everyone” gets small enough by then so there will still be enough bucks left to live.
      Daron Acemoğlu: Rest easy. AI won’t cover everyone’s jobs any time soon. Things will still suck when it does, though.
      Ethan Mollick: AI won’t cover all jobs, but it’s about to cover all the “good” jobs. I don’t want to think what happens next.
      Noah Smith on the earlier comments: Society will hopefully sort itself out and still leave humans “some” role. Relax.
      Pascual Restrepo: You’ll still have “some” role, buuut it will become irrelevant anyway as AI will play a colossally larger role in the overall economy. Pray AI’s profits get distributed to everyone.

      I think all of this misses the point completely. Compute can still be limited, but i think it’s more likely to happen through the supply-demand curve. Even if it remains expensive forever, there will likely be a point where the value of AI will equal its compute cost - once that is reached all AI jobs pay the same per compute time AI spends on them. Under the comparative advantage umbrella, the best-paying jobs for a human would turn out to be the jobs AI is the most inefficient at relative to the human regardless of whether they’re fullfilling to the human or not. but this still misses a much bigger problem.

      Production needed land, labor, and starting from a certain technology level, capital. There used to be a social balance here in that everyone had their own labor and society always managed to figure out the price they’d sell their labor for - even if that price was different over time and over different societies, they’d still manage to sell it anyway because there was someone willing to buy it in the first place.

      With AI, capital can now become labor instead of only amplifying production per labor. The industrial revolution was merely an inflection point where the amplifying factor of capital made labor without an amount of capital out of reach for most individuals uncompetitive. The ARA revolution is merely an inflection point where capital is making human labor uncompetitive.

      On old societies, everyone had access to enough land to survive(or thrive) on their own labor with a capital multiplier small enough to be achievable by oneself - you could sell the labor to yourself and get a more enjoyable life in exchange. As societies got larger, the land available per individual got smaller, but capital could still allow for success. People with large amounts of land/capital figured out they could get more by lending their land/capital to others in exchange for labor, and society could figure out the exchange rate for which they were willing to trade those because labor was scarce.

      ARA is bringing a post-scarcity economy, but the post-scarcity is coming to labor first, society has grown large enough that there’s not enough land for everyone to survive under their own labor without access to capital, and the people with land/capital now have enough that they don’t need to buy labor anymore. Worst of all, they’re now worse off by letting others labor with their resources for free, because the cost to keep them alive is now higher than the benefit their labor would bring to them. Society doesn’t like this, but what can it do about it?

      tl;dr: George was almost right.

  • Ghostface
    226 days ago

    We are three years away from some kid sueing to let his AI parent take custody of them.