White House report mostly optimistic on economic impact of AI and automation

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Artificial intelligence and automation have the potential to boost living standards and lead to an increase in people’s leisure hours, but could also lead to increased economic inequality, the White House said in a new report.

The report, titled “Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy,” is a followup to an October report, “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence,” which looked at the government’s role in developing and implementing AI. It’s part of the government’s efforts to address what will likely be a massive impact on jobs and employment once AI and automation really takes off.

Released Tuesday, the report kicks off with an introduction to the history of automation and its impacts on the economy, and takes a look at the kinds of jobs that could be lost or created by AI.

First, there’s plenty of optimism. The report states that AI will have a very positive impact on productivity growth, noting that machines don’t need to eat or sleep, and are relatively cheap to maintain. AI performs simple work very well, makes difficult jobs easier to do and does so at a lower cost than human labor.

“Accelerating AI capabilities will enable automation of some tasks that have long required human labor,” Kristin Lee, communications director and senior policy advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, wrote in a blog post accompanying the report. “These transformations will open up new opportunities for individuals, the economy, and society, but they will also disrupt the current livelihoods of millions of Americans.”

The report makes no predictions about the specific jobs that might be lost to automation, saying that AI will affect different tasks across different industries. It says some jobs will disappear, while others will see an increase in demand because of the need for specific skills to perform them. It also says the need for “artificial intelligence supervisors” will create new jobs.

However, what the report does predict is that lower-skilled, lower-paid workers will feel the biggest impact of automation. “This means that automation will continue to put downward pressure on demand for this group, putting downward pressure on wages and upward pressure on inequality,” the report states.

The report makes a comparison between the economic inequality that automation could cause and the plight of factory workers during the Industrial Revolution. While society as a whole benefited from mass production, many skilled artisans who previously oversaw every step of the production of items saw their livelihoods threatened or destroyed.

In order to ready ourselves for the coming of automation and AI, the report outlined three policy strategies the government should implement to ensure that economic inequality is lessened:

  1. Invest in and develop AI for its many benefits.
  2. Educate and train Americans for jobs of the future.
  3. Aid workers in the transition and empower workers to ensure broadly shared growth.

The report explains in depth the steps that can be taken to execute these strategies, noting that continued engagement among the government, industry, technical and policy experts and the public should play an important role in policy creation.

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