Robert Seamans: AI and the Economy

If you thought the battle between machines and jobs – the dislocation of labor and society resulting from digitization or automation – has been one-sided so far, just wait. The next wave of attack is well underway, and it’s called AI. 

Artificial Intelligence, most simply, refers to computers that perform tasks that normally require human intelligence – things like visual perception, speech recognition, even decision-making.

Earlier this year the management consulting firm McKinsey famously wrote that “25 percent of the global workforce will either need to find new professional activities by 2020 or significantly broaden their technological skills. The World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs Report: 2018” states, “By 2022, the skills required to perform most jobs will have shifted significantly… [and] no less than 54% of all employees will require significant re- and upskilling.”

The greatest concerns are not just that AI destroys jobs, but that it increases inequality – that low-wage employees get displaced, while high-wage employees maintain or even extend their value that’s more difficult to replace with a machine.

Of course, new technologies have disrupted existing processes for centuries. Steam engines. Electricity. Microprocessors. Will the experience with AI be different than with previous technologies? Most importantly, what can governments, corporations, small businesses and individual workers do to not just avoid massive disruption, but rather position themselves to take outsized advantage of the opportunities?

To find out, I recently hosted an excellent roundtable discussion at Clayton, Dubilier & Rice with NYU Professor Robert Seamans.

Prof. Seamans’ studies how technology and governance structures affect strategic interactions between firms, affect incentives to innovate, and ultimately shape market outcomes. Previously he served under President Obama as a Senior Economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisers. He also co-authored an important review titled, simply, “AI and the Economy,” which explored the potential impact of AI on productivity and labor, and considered the various roles for regulation around antitrust, wages, data portability, and even immigration.

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