The Policy Prognosis for AI: Winner of the SSUNS 2017 Essay Contest
Prompt: What are the political implications of artificial intelligence technology and how should policy makers ensure this technology will benefit diverse sectors of society?
In recent years, the rapid development and mass proliferation of artificial intelligence have had various sociopolitical implications. It is a commonly held belief that the emergence of this technology will have an unprecedented impact on policies and political agendas. However, such discourse often lacks a geopolitical and social dimension, which limits the breadth of analysis. Further, little consideration has been given to potential employment and public policy reform. Growing concerns have been raised regarding the potential risk inherent in the evolution of strong AI, which provides the basis for transhumanism, whereby it is conjectured that AI will eventually be able to surpass human intelligence. As such, it is incumbent upon the upcoming generation of policymakers to implement and adopt necessary measures, which will provide a careful, multilateral framework, ultimately achieving market-oriented technological advancement with respect to employment and public policy.
Machine learning, the interplay of computer science and neuroscience, is a rapidly developing field that has been a source of much political controversy in recent years. While emerging technologies have significantly improved production quality and efficiency across industries, they have also raised concerns such as job displacement and other unfavourable socioeconomic implications (Karsten & West, 2015). In particular, the growing shortage of job opportunities has furnished increasing levels of unemployment and has, in various instances, lead to unwanted economic stagnation. On the subject of potential future unemployment, many policymakers have proposed an increase in Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides a collateral basic income and encourages profit-sharing (West, 2015).
Furthermore, automated technologies are becoming increasingly efficient and self-capable, which have given them an inherent cost-competitive advantage over humans. Computer algorithms are also becoming ever more systematic and widespread. While some experts believe that AI development will have staggering consequences on unemployment, other schools of thought maintain that the impact will be negligible (Karsten, et al., 2015). In fact, it is contended that such technology will lead to job creation in other sectors of the economy. In this regard, public policies which appropriately address future employment should do so with consideration of employment unpredictability and other social outcomes.
With the rise of AI in all sectors of the economy, public policy has become an area of much contention in recent years. Discourse on the legal and regulatory nature of AI and autonomous system governance continues to be alluded to with increasing technological advancements. Since accelerated AI development ultimately stemmed from a resurgence of industrialism after a shortage of workers during the Great Depression, policymakers tend to implement preemptive regulations, which are often deemed strict, due to the “perceived safety, welfare, and market risks that these new innovations might seem to pose” (Thierer & O’Sullivan, 2017). These policy approaches are frequently clouded by caricatured and hyperbolic science fiction portrayals of AI, as well as the potential repercussions of inequity caused by the displacement of skilled workers in the near future. Unskilled workers are the demographic that is most vulnerable to AI development, as this form of technology tends to replace jobs that require automation. Nevertheless, while AI might render several low-skilled jobs obsolete, it may, indeed, provide new and superior job opportunities that are more socioeconomically viable.
By collating the development of AI with the advent of nuclear fission in 1938 and other scientific innovations, public policymakers can become proponents of socio-economic growth policies that advocate equitability and accountability for the workforce, as well as advancements in technology. More precisely, a responsible approach to AI policy should “take into account the combined lessons of the atomic age, digital dynamics, and space exploration” (Gosset, 2017). Artificial intelligence research should also remain transparent, so as to prevent a fallout of strong AI development and regulate it within universally accepted limits. In this regard, the development of artificial intelligence has the capacity to transform international affairs in a manner that is unprecedented and irreversible.
Furthermore, with advancements in quantum computing and machine learning, many notable public figures, including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, have indicated a growing concern with the imminent threat of AI surpassing human intelligence (Gosset, 2017). For instance, Darrell M. West, a political scientist, has proposed a protectionist framework that appeals to transhumanism, in which he restructures socioeconomic policy to account for changes in technology-induced unemployment. In particular, he posits that “Separating the dispersion of health care, disability, and pension benefits outside of employment offers workers with limited skills social benefits on a universal basis” (West, 2015). Expounding upon this equivocation, a more viable solution to potential unemployment is the realization of a multi-faceted policy which advocates the improvement of STEM-related education on a broad economic base, with habituation programs for the unskilled workforce. That is, with the implementation of appropriate and reformatory policies concerning the future development of AI technologies, this sector provides an economic incentive for new job creation, compatible with industrial development.
The primary issue with the adoption of this public policy is the difficulty associated with sustaining a supply of labourers that meets the demand for skilled workers. Therefore, it is incumbent upon public policymakers to address demand shortages and find ways to alleviate this disparity. Darrell West proposes “Reforming the education curriculum to reflect the high premium STEM skills will offer employees in the future.” (West, 2015). That is, by appropriately reforming the education system to tailor to STEM-related careers, it is possible to mollify the latent repercussions of increased industrial sector unemployment. Interestingly, the skilled-workforce glut (i.e. the excess supply of workers who are proficient in STEM-related fields) in Asia, India, China, and Japan provides an incentive for an international competitiveness towards AI development, whereby a comparative advantage is given to economies which place emphasis on technological growth. In the United States, corporations have sought to provide more incentives to those in STEM fields to prompt AI mobilization, an apparent consequence of the Sino-Western divide. In fact, in his 1953 address to the United Nations, President Dwight Eisenhower proposed the formation of an “International Artificial Intelligence Agency,” mirroring the guiding principles of the IAEA. Artificial intelligence development has become of utmost importance due to potential economic and defence sector advantages, as well as ubiquitous corporate welfare benefits (Kofas, 2017).
That being said, AI development continues to be a matter of great controversy for developing and developed nations, which have incompatible policies vis-à-vis the acceptable use of technology. The strive towards a “fourth industrial revolution” will have a visible impact on the digital divide. Such technological growth has already precipitated socioeconomic instability by increasing unemployment in low-skill sectors of the economy. Thus, the effects of induced job displacement are twofold, in that it incentivizes job creation in other sectors of the economy, and thereby increases sectoral diversification, while also inevitably leading to unemployment in automated, low-skill industries. Many political scientists have postulated, a priori, that the advancement of AI and machine learning will lead to optimal, productive efficiency in many sectors of the economy; however, it will also increase unemployment dependency [on the working population], conducive to poor socioeconomic conditions. The primary concern with the advancement of artificial intelligence is “an AI fracture,” which would exacerbate the digital divide (Gosset, 2017). Although an AI revolution would strengthen productivity and long-term economic growth mobility in developed nations, a stark 50% of the world lacks access to the Internet. So while technological advancement has several socioeconomic advantages for developed nations, it is also accompanied by unparalleled inequalities in the social, economic, and political spheres. In this zero-sum game rendition of the global response to AI development, developed nations benefit disproportionately as compared to developing nations. As such, these inequities must be resolved through thoughtful diplomatic discourse and the realization of effective, multilateral policy towards a mutually transformative co-existence.
The creation and adoption of a public policy framework on AI development should be decided so as to evade an AI fracture and, ultimately, a digital divide. With the possibility of transhumanism and a host of ethical implications associated with AI evolution, these technological measures should be made with the intent to yield socioeconomic growth and alleviate global disparities. The development of strong AI as an agency has the capacity to mold international affairs in an unprecedented way. As such, it is essential that the forthcoming generation of policymakers adopts necessary socioeconomic measures and provides a detailed framework to achieve transparent, market-driven technological development and continued economic prosperity. In this regard, AI could potentially be a catalyst for positive sociopolitical change and improved international solidarity in the future.
Sergio Charles is a student at Lyford Cay International in Nassau, The Bahamas. He has strong interests in computer science, math and public relations. He is passionate about the future development of AI and how it will influence multilateral agreements.
Gosset, D. (2016, June 29). Artificial Intelligence (AI) And Global Geopolitics. Retrieved November 01, 2017, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-gosset/artificial-intelligence-a_2_b_10710612.html
Karsten, J., & West, D. M. (2016, July 29). How robots, artificial intelligence, and machine learning will affect employment and public policy. Retrieved November 01, 2017, from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/techtank/2015/10/26/how-robots-artificial-intelligence-and-machine-learning-will-affect-employment-and-public-policy/
Kofas, J. (2017, April 22). Artificial Intelligence: Socioeconomic, Political and Ethical Dimensions. Retrieved November 01, 2017, from https://www.globalresearch.ca/artificial-intelligence-socioeconomic-political-and-ethical-dimensions/5586907
Thierer, A., & O’Sullivan, A. (2017, October 31). Artificial Intelligence and Public Policy. Retrieved November 01, 2017, from https://www.mercatus.org/publications/artificial-intelligence-public-policy
West, D. M. (2016, December 15). What happens if robots take the jobs? The impact of emerging technologies on employment and public policy. Retrieved November 01, 2017, from https://www.brookings.edu/research/what-happens-if-robots-take-the-jobs-the-impact-of-emerging-technologies-on-employment-and-public-policy/