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Blog: Policy Prescriptions for the AI Social Contract


The Leader of the Luddites, Published in May 1812 by Messrs. Walker and Knight, Sweetings Alley, Royal Exchange, Copyright Expired

In my recent story “New World Order of the AI Economy” I suggested that the success of future AI Economies will be determined in large part by each countries creation of an AI Workforce, AI Infrastructure, and finally an AI Social Contract. In this original story I presented some high level policy ideas as a discussion starter, but it is clear that there is an appetite for a deeper dive into the idea of the AI Social Fabric along with specific policy ideas for its implementation.

Why the AI Social Contract?

The adoption of AI and workplace automation already changing the way we work and the workforce we need. Nearly half of jobs in the United States predicted to be automatable based on the World Development Report 2019 (Figure 1).

Figure 1: WDR 2019: The Changing Nature of Work© World Bank http://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/wdr2019 License: Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY 3.0 IGO)

Displacement of workers leads to technology resistance, with examples like the Luddite movement in 1800’s England where workers destroyed textile machinery seen to be taking workers livelihood.

AI adoption in the to automate white collar work in the “Cubical” is growing rapidly and is expected to reach $48B+ USD by 2022 per Forrester’s Craig Le Clair in this recent Financial Times article.

While the history of automation shows us that each new improvement in technology has increased total employment, the new jobs have ofte gone to different worker classes, skill levels, etc. with McKinsey major reporting that from 75M to 375M will need to change employment categories or reskill by 2030 (Source: McKinsey Global Institute).

This rapid shift of work from people to “Digital Workers”, physical robots and RPA Robots necessitates a new “AI Social Contract” to maintain innovation while providing for workers that are impacted by this evolution of the workplace.

Policies for the AI Social Contract

Priority 1: Retraining, upskilling, and education: Much of the early impact of automation will be on low and medium skilled labor. Jobs that include delivery, sorting, driving, lifting, inspecting will be early targets for automation. New America’s work Shifting Gears on Automation shows that workers that live outside of urban areas face event steeper odd’s when faced with automation

  1. AI Optimized Vocational Education: Much of the focus on AI education has been on advanced math and science. The AI Social Contract will need to have vocational education that equips workers for emerging fields: Advanced Manufacturing, Mechatronics, servicing and repair of robots, etc. NGO and Community Colleges need funding to continue and grow programs like Seattle Goodwill’s Youth Aerospace Program.
  2. Diversion of young workers from declining industries and job functions is critical. Retraining and job changing incentives to fully employed individuals in declining will save government expenditures to retrain older and less flexible workers. Policy prescriptions to employers to hire late in career workers to fill current vacancies can help in this area as well as solving for some of the older workers employment needs after being made redundant.
  3. Retraining and upskilling of middle aged workers presents the most challenge since they have many years left in the workforce, and can be less flexible to change industries, and frequently will pick training options that are related to their past employment making the risk of redundancy higher. A key success factor is receiving a career assessment to aid displaced workers in making retraining decisions(source: Atlantic).

Priority 2: Today just 48% of Americans support the idea of providing automation displaced workers with basic income, while nearly the same percentage of workers face the risk of job loss to robots (Source: Northeastern University /Gallup Survey, Sept 15th-October 10th 2017). It is reasonable to assume that public support will reach a plurality as automation impacts become more clear to workers. As public support builds policy makers will need to consider the following as they implement these policies

  1. Guaranteed income schemes will need to be reserved for workers that are unable reskill
  2. Guaranteed income scheme participants should be prioritized as backfill for younger workers that are diverted
  3. These schemes should be time limited to make the program more appealing to workers that are close to Social Security and Medicare eligibility
  4. These programs will need to provide Medicaid elegibility as a stopgap untill the worker and their family reaches standard Medicare eligibility

Source: Artificial Intelligence on Medium

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