Andy Haldane, chief economist of the Bank of England told BBC News this week that the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) threatens to leave “large swaths” of workers “technologically unemployed” as their jobs become obsolete. The warning echoes similar statements by leaders such as Elon Musk, who warned in 2016 that a universal basic income is the only way to support the many workers that will lose their jobs as AI technology develops further.
Musk predicted that “there is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation.”
In 2013, an Oxford University study estimated that 47 percent of US jobs could be replaced by AI such as robots over just two decades.
Haldane described to BBC News economics editor Kamal Ahmed how each industrial revolution had historically hurt workers:
“Each of those had a wrenching and lengthy impact on the jobs market, on the lives and livelihoods of large swathes of society…jobs were effectively taken by machines of various types, there was a hollowing out of the jobs market, and that left a lot of people for a lengthy period out of work and struggling to make a living.”
“That heightened social tensions, it heightened financial tensions, it led to a rise in inequality. This is the dark side of technological revolutions and that dark-side has always been there…that hollowing out is going to be potentially on a much greater scale in the future, when we have machines both thinking and doing – replacing both the cognitive and the technical skills of humans.”
Haldane said these negative impacts could only be avoided with a new wave of job creation, focused on tasks that rely on human, face-to-face interaction and negotiation.
Those concerns are shared by Tabitha Goldstaub, head of the government’s AI advisory council. Goldstaub says that there is a “huge risk” for workers as increasingly capable AI takes on new roles, and that new jobs would be necessary to replace those that may disappear.
According to Goldstaub, this could be as much of an opportunity as a crisis:
“There is a hopeful view [based] on the fact that a lot of these jobs [being taken by AI] are boring, mundane, unsafe, drudgery – there could be some element of liberation from some of these jobs and a move towards a brighter world.”
“Now that’s not going to be an easy journey, but I do believe there is hope at the end of it all,” said Goldstaub.