The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories
We shouldn’t be worried about artificial intelligence turning into our new robotic overlords, but that doesn’t mean we should stop worrying about AI, writes Kai-Fu Lee, the Microsoft and Google veteran who helped invent the field of speech recognition and is now a leading investor and voice on the Chinese internet. Writing in The New York Times, Lee argues that our global economy is about to be more deeply disrupted than we have been willing to imagine, as AI draws tight new boundaries around the employment opportunities for humans.
In the continuing debate on whether AI will eliminate tons of jobs or just revamp them, mark Lee down as a strong eliminationist. He foresees “a wide-scale decimation of jobs,” along with an unprecedented flow of profit and wealth to the companies that introduce the new technology.
The only way we can get through such an era of dislocation, Lee argues, is massive Keynesian social engineering. Governments will have to tax the corporate wealth AI creates and use those resources to fund new kinds of work for the masses whose jobs AI destroys: “service jobs of love…that A.I. cannot do, that society needs and that give people a sense of purpose” — like “accompanying an older person to visit a doctor, or mentoring at an orphanage.”
That could work in the nations, largely the U.S. and China, where the powerhouse AI companies stockpile their profits. For other, less fortunate countries, Lee foresees an almost feudal future: “taking in welfare subsidies in exchange for letting the ‘parent’ nation’s A.I. companies continue to profit from the dependent country’s users.”
It’s easier to imagine China’s oligarchy figuring out how to make this kind of path work than the U.S.’s partisan-deadlocked political system. The kinds of state-managed plans Lee envisions look far out of range for either of the American parties and ideologies: Republicans won’t want to enact them, and Democrats won’t be able to. Maybe that’s Lee’s deeper point, though he never makes it explicit: China, with its unique hybrid of central planning and market ferment, is better positioned to adapt to the AI future than any other nation on earth.
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