AI (artificial intelligence) and robots threaten our living standards. With the ever-increasing ability of robots and AI to perform more intricate tasks with greater accuracy, speed and consistency than humans, it is progressively becoming obvious that many jobs, if done by robots, would be more cost-effective for companies, and may even do the job better. Not only do robots and AI hold the potential to take over many repetitive manufacturing jobs, they also look likely to take over commercial jobs, such as shopping assistants, as well as higher skilled jobs: from secretaries and administrators to surgeons, with some arguing that robots with AI may be able to write their own code as part of self-improvement in the search for performing ever more complex tasks even more productively and effectively – even removing the need for computer programmers! This presents an interesting and potentially frightening predicament: a society where business owners reap the vast benefits of having substituted workers for much more productive robots, while many millions of workers are out of their jobs.
There could be millions of redundant workers suddenly forced to find alternative employment, but with robots taking many jobs, the majority will struggle to retrain to find jobs well-suited to their qualifications and experience that are not being done by robots (hence their redundancy). This could result in millions being unemployed or forced to do low-paid jobs, such as gardeners, where they will be unproductive with many earning less than they would have done in their original job. Unemployment levels would be extortionately high as not enough jobs would remain to employ most of the population. This will potentially create social turmoil as people revolt against the use of robots as they see high unemployment levels and a low productivity, low-paid workforce in action. Crime would also be likely to increase rapidly amid social unrest as people see falling material living standards when they are unemployed or in lower paid jobs and so have less disposable income. Additionally, if the trend is global this would be mean a collapsing global consumer market as consumers would be considerably worse off, with significantly less disposable income to spend.
With worse off consumers globally, a global recession is inevitable because, with spending deteriorating, negative economic growth will occur as fewer goods and services will be produced to meet the diminished aggregate demand. This would result in the failure of countless businesses, making even business owners, who the robots and AI originally benefitted, worse off. In addition, with negative economic growth likely to be great, tax revenue would collapse as jobs/businesses are lost and spending deteriorates. This would make all the social and economic issues created extremely hard to tackle because of the sudden increased budget deficit created, reducing governments’ abilities to spend in areas to reduce the negative impacts of the highlighted social and economic issues. Furthermore, governments would be unlikely to be able to revert the movement to robots and AI because if they did (e.g. through regulation/bans etc.) their industries would be less competitive than foreign industries still using robots – a disincentive for governments to remove more productive robots and AI.
However, it is also important to consider that the transition of many jobs to being replaced by robots and AI is a gradual process; this enables society to adapt to the changing workplace and means that millions of people will not be jobless at the same time, reducing the dangers of a great economic slowdown. With the rise of robots and AI, a large and opulent industry is emerging – one that will employ millions of highly skilled workers in the industry. This means that although many low skill jobs are being removed, they are being replaced by better paid, higher skill jobs. This holds the potential to mean a labour force in action predominantly in high skill, well paid jobs, increasing average real wages and therefore disposable incomes. This will fuel a faster growing economy as consumer spending increases, increasing aggregate demand and, being met by supply, increasing the output of the economy – economic growth.
With current education systems, however, it would not be viable to move workers in low skill jobs to high skill jobs because of these people not having the educational grounds to get skilled to such a high level. However, the replacement of jobs by robots and AI is gradual (as seen with self -checkout tills at supermarkets) and therefore this allows governments time to adapt to the changing labour demands. Governments, to help maintain employment will have to shift educational focus towards more students going to higher education because most jobs look to be high skill roles.
This is very much achievable, especially with the ever-increasing proportion of students continuing to higher education anyway (the UK has seen this trend with 25% of 18-year olds entering university in 2006, but 31% in 2015), permitting the replacement of jobs with robots and AI to not adversely affect employment and living standards but improve them if more people are in higher ski ll, better paid jobs. This also has the social benefit of potentially reducing income inequalities because most people will be in higher paid jobs, allowing for greater social cohesion and less government spending on social protection, (allowing for more spending in other areas, such as education, which would improve the situation of the number of people in high skill roles further).
Furthermore, robots and AI will be extremely beneficial to the economy because they will vastly increase production efficiencies, increasing productivity. Not only does this increase the maximum potential output of the global economy, allowing for increases in GDP (economic growth), but it also allows for lower average unit costs during production, permitting further falls in prices of many goods and services while firms retain their profit margins. This will allow material living standards globally to increase because people will have greater spending power, permitting them to buy more goods and services with the same income.
Therefore, if societies and governments can plan for and adapt to them, robots and AI have the potential to greatly improve the material living standards of millions of people and fuel economic growth and development globally.