Rob is the President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a DC-based tech policy think tank. Rob’s also an internationally recognized scholar and expert on innovation—so much so that in 2011, the Obama administration appointed him to an advisory board focused on our National innovation strategy. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobAtkinsonITIF.
Transformative waves of innovation occur every half century or so—this is an idea pioneered by the famous economist Joseph Schumpeter. Today, we’re in the early, beginning phases of applied AI.
The fear that human labor will be rendered irrelevant by technology isn’t new—and the labor market has always landed on its feet.
We’re never going to run out of things to spend money on, and as long as that’s the case, there will always be new jobs created because people will want new and better things.
AI can do important things but they tend to be somewhat more routinized. It’s going to have a bigger impact on lower skill and lower wage jobs. This could be a good thing so long as workers can move into more middle class jobs where they can make a better living, but maybe have more skill requirements.
When AI is applied to higher skill jobs, it’s going to be what economists call a complement. A doctor might use AI to improve their ability to diagnose and treat patients—but it’s unlikely a patient will consult an AI-powered robot for a diagnosis.
Governments need to do a better job at helping workers succeed alongside automation. They could, for example, incentivize training programs by implementing tax credits on related expenditures. Otherwise, there’s going to be so much opposition that we could see regulations emerge that restrict the use of AI at work.
A 2016 article reported that more California high school students take ceramics than take computer programming courses—and this in a state known as the heart of the tech industry.
As computer and data science advances, we should see required introductory courses in these subjects enter standard curriculum. Not only will this demystify the technology and drive less fearful, more productive dialogue on its impact, but it will also encourage the employability of our future workforce.
It’s increasingly essential for workers to have what Rob’s colleague David Moschella calls “double deep” skills (here’s a video of David explaining the concept). No matter the specialty—marketing, art, finance—workers will have to understand both their industry and the technologies reshaping their industry in order to be successful.