Fears of mass unemployment from artificial intelligence and robotics are unfounded – OpEd – Eurasia Review

By Raushan Gross*

People argue about whether artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics will eliminate human employment. People seem to have an all-or-nothing belief that either the use of technology in the workplace destroys human employment and its purpose, or it doesn’t detract from it at all. The replacement of human jobs by robotics and AI has been dubbed “technological unemployment.”

Although robotics can convert materials into commodities in a fraction of the time it would take a human, in some cases with minimal use of human energy, some claim that AI and robotics will indeed lead to an increase in human employment. According to a 2020 Forbes prediction, AI and robotics will be a powerful creator of jobs and jobs for people around the world in the near future. Also in 2020, however, Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo published a study that predicted negative job growth when AI and robotics replace human jobs, and predicted a significant job loss each time a robot replaces a human in the workplace. But two years later, an article in The Economist showed that many economists have scaled back their forecast of high unemployment rates due to AI and robotics in the workplace. According to the Economist’s 2022 article, “Fears of a prolonged period of high unemployment have not materialized. . . . The grim narrative that says an invasion of job-killing robots is just around the corner has had an extraordinary hold on the popular imagination for decades.” So which scenario is correct?

Contrary to popular belief, no industrialized nation has ever completely replaced human energy in the workplace with technology. For example, the steam dredger has never put construction workers out of work; whether you want to work in construction is another question. And bicycles didn’t become obsolete because of vehicle manufacturing: “Consumer spending on bicycles and accessories peaked at $8.3 billion in 2021,” according to a World Economic Forum article.

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In general, do people believe that AI and robotics can run an economy without human involvement, energy, ingenuity and collaboration? While AI and robotics have boosted economies, they cannot plan or run economies or create technological unemployment worldwide. “Some countries are better placed to compete in AI than others,” according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. While this is a true statement, it overlooks the fact that productive economies adapt better to technological change than non-productive economies. In other words, productive people are even more effective when they use technology. Companies using AI and robotics can reduce production costs, lower prices and boost demand; hence employment grows as demand, and therefore production, increases. In the unlikely event that AI or productive robotic technology fails to lower a company’s prices and production costs, job opportunities in that industry will fall, but employment will relocate elsewhere, potentially expanding the capacity of another industry. This industry could then increase the use of AI and robotics, creating more job opportunities there.

In the not too distant past, office administrators did not know how to use computers, but when the computer took over the workplace, it did not supplant administrative employment as originally predicted. Now we walk around here with minicomputers in our pockets. The advent of the desktop computer has not eliminated human administrative workers—on the contrary, the computer has added employment to the workplace since its inception. Employees and business owners, sometimes separated by time and space, use all sorts of technological devices, communicate with each other over vast networks and can be increasingly productive.

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I remember attending a retirement party held by a company I worked at decades ago. The retired employee told us all a story about how the company introduced its first computer in the late ’60s. The retiree recalls: “The boss said we would use computers instead of typewriters and paper to do administrative tasks. The next day, her department went from thirty to five employees.” The day after the department installed computers, twenty-five employees left to look for work elsewhere so they “didn’t have to learn and use those damn computers.”

People often fear losing their jobs when companies adopt new technologies, especially technologies that can mimic human tasks. However, there has never been mass unemployment due to technological innovations in an industrialized country. The idea that AI will drive people out of the market is unfounded. Mike Thomas noted in his article “Robots and AI Taking Over Jobs: What to Know about the Future of Jobs” that “artificial intelligence is poised to eliminate millions of current jobs—and create millions of new ones.” Social anxiety about the future of AI and robotics is reminiscent of the Luddites of early 19th-century England and their fear of replacement technologies. Luddites, heavily employed in the textile industry, feared that the loom would do the work for them. They traveled all over England breaking and destroying machinery and new manufacturing technology, fearing technological unemployment. However, as the textile industry there became capitalized, employment in the industry actually grew. History teaches us that technology drives the growth of work and jobs for people, not the other way around.

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We should look forward to unskilled and semi-skilled workers stepping up from monotonous work due to AI and robotics. Of course, AI and robotics will have different impacts on different sectors; but as a whole they are enablers and enhancers of human labor. As already mentioned, the steam dredger did not put the construction workers out of work. The taxi industry wasn’t eliminated because of Uber’s technology; If anything, Uber’s new AI technology has lowered the barriers to entry into the taxi industry. Musicians weren’t eliminated when music went digital; Instead, this innovation gave musicians bigger platforms and audiences, allowing them to reach millions of people with a swipe of the screen. And dating apps powered by AI have helped millions of people fall in love and live happily ever after.

About the author: Raushan Gross is an Associate Professor of Business Management at Pfeiffer University. His works include Basic Entrepreneurship, Management and Strategy and the e-book The Inspiring Life and Beneficial Impact of Entrepreneurs.

Source: This article was published by the MISES Institute