This is the opinion of AI expert Ben Goertzel, a cognitive scientist, mathematician, and researcher, who popularized the study of Artificial General Intelligence in the early 2000s.
“You could probably obsolete maybe 80 percent of jobs that people do,” he said recently at the World Summit Rio de Janeiro, in an interview with AFP, referring to AI’s development and its role in job automation.
While there is consensus that AI systems will certainly take over many human jobs, and in some cases they are already doing so, Goertzel thinks this could be a good thing in the future, as new jobs will be created, and humans will be able to pursue more meaningful undertakings with their time.
“The problem I see is in the interim period, when AIs are obsoleting one human job after another… I don’t know how (to) solve all the social issues,” Goertel said.
Indeed, it is expected that, in a few years, AI will replace about 300 million full-time jobs, according to a recent report by Goldman Sachs.
Could This Ever Be A Good Thing?
While general opinion is continuously divided between the risks and benefits of AI development and implementation, it is much rarer to see human job replacement classified as a potentially good thing.
“I don’t think it’s a threat. I think it’s a benefit. People can find better things to do with their life than work for a living… Pretty much every job involving paperwork should be automatable,” Goertzel said in Rio de Janeiro.
The fear of machines replacing human jobs is actually not new, nor exclusive to the development of Artificial Intelligence. In fact, ever since the industrial revolution, humans have feared that their jobs will be taken by technology, and each time, as productivity is improved, new jobs have been created with the loss of old ones, as told by The Economist.
“By eliminating the tedium, AI and automation can free us to pursue careers that give us a greater sense of meaning and well-being. Careers that challenge us, instill a sense of progress, provide us with autonomy, and make us feel like we belong; all attributes of a satisfying job,” writes the head of operations at IoT for All.
This would need a change in the economic system, however, in the way wealth is distributed across the population. One idea of how this could work is a Universal Basic Income, in which a certain amount of money is regularly distributed by the government to every citizen, regardless of their job situation.
Sam Altman, CEO of ChatGPT’s owner company OpenAI, is a big proponent of this idea. He says that by taxing capital instead of labor, the economic growth brought by automation’s rise in productivity could be distributed among all citizens, and both people and the economy would prosper.
The Role Of Artificial General Intelligence
As defined by Ben Goertzel and Cassio Pennachin in a 2006 book, Artificial General Intelligences are “AI systems that possess a reasonable degree of self-understanding and autonomous self-control, and have the ability to solve a variety of complex problems in a variety of contexts, and to learn to solve new problems that they didn’t know about at the time of their creation.”
Current AI systems are not quite at that level of consciousness and general intelligence yet, and it is a subject of this discussion how long will it take us to fully develop such technologies.
But while techno-optimists believe this road will be overall beneficial for humanity, others think that achieving an AGI would create a disruption so big that the risks will be greater than the benefits.
One of these areas could be human job replacement. In the automation revolutions of the past, not all industries were affected at the same time; Artificial Intelligence, on the other hand, has the potential capability of doing it at such a scale that more jobs could be lost than those created, according to techno-pessimists.
It is difficult to predict what the outcome will be in the end, but how the technology is deployed, and not only the technology itself, will have a big impact on the end results:
“What you need is society to be developing these AIs to do good things. And the governance of the AIs to be somehow participatory among the population. All these things are technically possible. The problem is that the companies funding most of the AI research don’t care about doing good things. They care about maximizing shareholder value,” concluded Goertzel at the Rio Web Summit.