Between 2018 and 2020 I read two books that helped shape my perception of our future with Artificial Intelligence:
- Wealth of Humans – By Ryan Avent
- The War on Normal People – By Andrew Yang
- Wealth of Humans Summary:
- Highly skilled creators and professionals will far outpace mediocre workers by virtue of leveraging digital tools to increase the reach and effectiveness of their services & products. We won’t need millions of average teachers, we’ll have a few world class teachers that can connect globally. We live in a knowledge economy where capital, knowledge, and labor can be summoned across the globe at will and on demand. Power and wealth will continue to shift from labor to capital. A UBI might be the only way to support all the people who’s contributions are not needed in the economy.
- The War on Normal People Summary:
- Andrew Yang write like a man who’s looking over the edge of a cliff to share his vision with the rest of us. Perhaps he’s right. At the very least, he’s not all wrong. The Ware on Normal People makes clear how the vanishing middle class will continue to vanish as AI based tools and technology automate away more of the tasks that comprise current white collar work and eventually blue collar work. Ironically, many types of office work are easier to automate than physical blue collar work in service based industries. Yang is a devoted proponent of the UBI as well. How else will the masses who no longer effectively contribute support themselves?
There two books gave me a glimpse of tomorrow and AI’s role in work.
The Wealth of Humans: Work and Its Absence in the Twenty-first Century
by Ryan Avent
The War on Normal People
Book by Andrew Yang
While at college I majored in Computer Science at Georgia Tech. Our CS program offered multiple “Tracks” of specialization to study, and I chose to study the “Networks” and “People” tracks. There was an “AI” track, but at the time I wasn’t interested. AI seemed like a gimmick to me back then, probably thanks to Siri 1.0.
Even after a few years these CS paths that Universities are offering are quickly outdated. I’m growing more confident the University Model system of a Macro-Certificate (i.e. 4 Year Degree) is not an ideal fit for technical certifications. However, the point here is there’s no way schools can always stay ahead of industry and all research. The point is also I didn’t study AI in school as my perception of it a few years ago was different.
Thanks to reading many compelling books (two of they key ones listed above), my view has certainly been changing over the last few years. I don’t think AI is going to blow down the door like the terminator.
Rather, I believe AI will flood into our world like millions of tiny drones.
Truly effective General AI would be like a Terminator. What we have today is Narrow AI. It’s good at very specific things. However, certain flavors of “More General Narrow AI” like OpenAI continue to develop.
I think AI will indeed bring incredible wealth and innovation to our world, but it will likely be collected in the hands of the few. Hence the heavy drumbeating for UBIs from the Andre Yangs of the world.
Tech fascinates me, but I’m equally if not more fascinated by the economy as a system. Seeing how poorly labor was faring before the early to mid 1900s is a sombre warning to what happens when labor’s bargaining power erodes. We’re already seeing this with the Gig economy today. AI will speed that trickle into a full blown torrent.
Read both of the books listed above! Do they compel you that a UBI is inevitable?
Will those of us who don’t control the AI systems receive a wonderful UBI and be free to garden, sculpt pottery, read, visit with loved ones, and live in a Utopia where wealth and freedom for all know no bounds?
Or, will most folks be be packing into trailer high rises evocative of Ready Player 1? While the rich seclude themselves in something like Elysium or a terrestrial version.
I doubt we’ll see either extreme across the board. We’ll likely see a mixture of both spread across the world.
The USA will hold both. Europe will hold both. Africa will hold both. Asia will hold both.
However, one core tenet I do believe both authors got right is that the miracle middle class formed in America in the mid 1900s is rapidly shrinking. Globally, the middle class is growing. Which is fantastic news.
However, cycles are just that. Cycles.
AI will undoubtedly upend cycles we’ve understood and take us to places we never thought we could.