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When the robots rise up, they won’t take your life. They’ll take your job, particularly those in fields primed for automation, like manufacturing, trucking, and customer service. Technologists, economists, and policymakers believe this future is all but inevitable, and say it’s time to begin thinking seriously about how to ensure artificial intelligence advances humanity—and improves the economy, without leaving the middle class behind.
Two economists who recently left Washington say the answer lies in ensuring the government provides enough of a safety net to help middle class Americans navigate the coming transition. Jason Furman and Gene Sperling—former chief economic advisors to President Obama—prefer to think of it as a bridge, not a net, that will help people reach the future. At a conference at MIT last week, they joined AI and machine learning experts to debate how American policymakers should deal with the fact that artificial intelligence can’t and won’t be stopped. One thing everyone agreed on was that only the social programs of today can prepare people for tomorrow.
The Trump administration clearly disagrees. Today, the president proposed a budget that cuts many of those subsidies and training programs along with funding for science, the arts, the State Department, and so on. Trump favors slashing things like training programs for seniors who must to learn new job skills, as well as grants for low-income students to attend college. He suggests cutting $221 million from the Economic Development Administration, which works to create new jobs and retain existing jobs threatened by globalization and automation. You might think such programs help the nation’s poorest and most disadvantaged citizens. They do, but wage stagnation means they increasingly serve a struggling middle class—the very people Trump so often claims to serve.
To be fair, the Obama administration did not show great generosity here either. The US has in recent years spent just two-tenths of one percent of its GDP on policies to encourage active participation in the labor market, Furman says. “So to some degree we are not even trying to solve this,” he says.
“This dystopic future—the future where machines are taking people’s jobs—is a possibility, but [only] if we choose to let it happen,” Furman says. “Better educated workers can better cope with the disruptions to jobs and better deal with inequality, but we can’t count on that to do everything, so we need a robust safety net.”
Such a safety net would allow a truck driver who loses his job to an autonomous vehicle to continue paying rent and get the training needed to pursue a new career. It would help a customer service rep whose job suddenly goes to an algorithm. Factory workers displaced by robots could finance training to manage and maintain those robots. And so on.
Furman and Sperling agree that technological change is inevitable, but the negative consequences are not. As with earlier technological upheavals—the PC revolution, to name a recent example—the policies crafted to address those changes invariably determine the outcome. But policymakers must listen attentively to the current concerns. “This time is different,” Sperling says. Right now, the US ranks third only to Israel and Italy in
Read More At: https://www.wired.com/2017/03/trumps-budget-awful-youre-worker-great-youre-robot/