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Positive visions for the dawn of the AI era
How artificial intelligence represents not a threat but an enrichment to our working lives
Sebastian Haag, Hendrik Abel
Many experts have said that artificial intelligence (AI) will lead to a seismic shift in the labor market in the upcoming decades. Large numbers of highly complex jobs could then be being done by machines. The potential for this to have an explosive effect on the whole of society is enormous. Unless policymakers and business leaders take the right action in time.
If you've been following the debate around advances in artificial intelligence, you'll have heard all the doomsday predictions: from machines that diagnose diseases faster, build better houses, and compose more beautiful symphonies to prophecies of mass unemployment and rising inequality. That AI will outperform humans in almost every sphere in the foreseeable future is considered a foregone conclusion in these scenarios. Sometimes the only question is when this superiority will be achieved: in twenty years? Or not until 120 years from now?
No matter how you feel about such ideas, that they are within the realms of possibility makes it necessary to prepare for them. The World Economic Forum's Global AI Council (GAIC) therefore launched the Positive AI Economic Futures initiative with the involvement of Roland Berger in April 2020. The ambitious goal is to create positive visions for a future in which AI is not a threat but an enrichment to our working lives.
More than 150 globally leading experts and tech thought leaders have spent the past months racking their brains over how the future labor market should be shaped in an ideal world. They have been searching for answers to the most pressing questions: What might the jobs of the future look like? How would AI-generated wealth gains need to be distributed to prevent a rise in social injustice? Where do states have a stronger duty as regulators and guardians of law and order to counter monopolization tendencies? And above all, how can the way in which humans and machines work together be organized to make the jobs of the future as meaningful as possible?
The report that has been produced offers some initial answers to these pressing questions. It is intended as a starting point and a collection of ideas for a debate on the future of work, a debate that will need to be intensified going forward. Besides outlining positive visions for the dawn of the AI era, the authors also describe the resistance and the challenges that will need to be overcome to prevent an imbalance in the labor market in the coming decades. The six positive scenarios are outlined below.
- Fair wealth distribution: The global economy grows faster than ever before thanks to AI-induced productivity gains. But unlike in the past, there is a fairer distribution of wealth gains between countries and social classes. A new taxation system and better unemployment protection help here.
- Business refocusing: Leading AI companies concentrate increasingly on developing algorithms and systems that focus less on pure efficiency gains and more on actually improving people's everyday lives. To this end, corporate ownership structures are adapted and antitrust law is rewritten.
- Flexible labor markets: Technological progress creates new jobs that did not exist before. Improved education and reskilling make this possible, coupled with a social security net that mitigates the unemployment created by automation.
- Humane artificial intelligence: Society as a whole decides to call time on excessive automation. The focus instead is on developing technologies that benefit workers in their daily work. Where automation is necessary, it is therefore taxed.
- Meaningful work: Machines replace dangerous, unhealthy, or boring jobs. Flexible, meaningful, and productive jobs are reserved exclusively for humans.
- Stronger civil society: In a world where people have to work less, unpaid activities become more important – for instance, working in local communities, investing in personal development, or other social occupations. All of these are specifically promoted so that people can derive the same sense of purpose from their commitment to the community that work used to provide.
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