Another contemporary concern is that human societal and economic roles will swiftly be overcome and replaced by AI. Consequently, it is seen as a competitor to human prosperity and survival. While there are valid concerns tied up in this, AI is in no way the enemy in this scenario. The root threat lies in how our economy values or devalues labor and incentivizes exploitation.
Currently there are two main theories about the effects of automation, which are generally labeled as “replacement” and “augmentation” . The “replacement view” posits that tasks and jobs will be increasingly transferred to AI . In a 2017 study, Frey and Osborne postulated that “47% of U.S. employment could be at risk from AI” . More recently, however, the “augmentation view” has gained traction, asserting that “AI complements human work” and will expand our capabilities without dominating the workforce . There are a number of fields where this complementary balance has already been implemented, leading to better allocation of human labor and greater precision in the use of resources. I cover these applications more in-depth in the Ethical Considerations section of this project.
While there are many competing observations and theories, reality probably exists somewhere in the middle. As Jaimovich and Siu described in 2019, “[c]omputer-based automation has been recognized for not only causing the loss of middle-income routinized jobs but also for polarizing jobs into high- and low-waged at the expense of middle-income ones” . There will likely still be job opportunities for humans, but there is historical precedent for increasing income inequality unless significant overhauls are made to how labor and resources are valued and allocated.
Tschang and Almirall sum up the dilemma perfectly:
The societal implications of this scenario are profound. If AI-induced automation replaces more and more work, and much of the remaining work is concentrated into a smaller, highly technical workforce, there will be a need for policy to ensure jobs for sustainable livelihoods. Governments, firms, and scholars should come together to engage firms in thinking of new models of socially-minded production, and to consider social protections .
This concern rests at the very heart of my practice and this project: the belief that artists should proactively pursue these dialogues and push for social change before a crisis occurs. AI is not the root cause of these threats but exacerbates an existing condition of contemporary society. I will address this more thoroughly when covering the ethical implications of AI, but it is worthwhile to begin considering how these understandable fears shape people’s posture towards AI.