The Shifting Ground - Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Redundancy of the Human Species.
For generations, centuries, the horse and oxen were the muscle of agriculture. They ploughed the fields, harvested the grain and delivered the crop to market. For their time (and they had a good run) they were the most efficient means of cropping, from start to finish. They could do work that humans could not do and that meant the farmer could tend larger farms and deliver food to the markets.
Then came the Industrial Revolution launched with the development of coal-fueled, steam engines that, in turn, gave way to petroleum, first in boilers and then, in refined form, in internal combustion engines that could power cars, trucks and, perhaps more importantly, tractors.
Tractors meant a farmer could buy his horsepower in a can and, with it, plough far more land than ever before, sow and harvest the land mechanically and get the crop quickly to market. The farm horse was obsolete. Redundant, it disappeared, its place often marked by empty stables in the barn.
What shall be next to go, us? There are some who suggest human labour may be on the path to redundancy. Progressive economist, James Galbraith, son of John Kenneth Galbraith, warns that every economic upheaval, whether it comes from recession, war, or now this pandemic, brings with it further automation, further displacement of paid work. Yet in our world of globalized free trade the standard refrain from our political leadership is "our hands are tied." With that they absolve themselves of their fundamental obligations to the public.
In his book, "The Predator State," Galbraith explored the fealty paid to global free trade by both conservatives and liberals. While he writes of Republicans and Democrats, his arguments are quite valid north of the 49th also.... There is a reason, in short, that principled conservatives find themselves in the political wilderness once again: they belong there. They are noble savages and the wilderness is their native element. They do not belong in government because, as a practical matter, they have little to contribute to it; they are guilty of taking the myths they helped create too seriously, and to sophisticated people, that makes then look a bit foolish.
A Flawed Ideology that Became a Contagion that Infects Us to This Day.
...few politicians in either party have yet publicly divorced themselves from the Reagan Revolution, in particular from the idea of the free market. Politicians notoriously say what is convenient and act along different lines entirely, causing problems for those who try to write about their views in a careful and serious way. But perhaps on no other issue is this tendency more pronounced than in matters relating to the markets, a word one apparently cannot use in the United States without bending a knee and making the sign of the cross.
And here the political world is divided into two groups. There are those who praise the free market because to do so gives cover to themselves and their friends in raiding the public trough. These people call themselves "conservatives," and one of the truly galling thing for real conservatives is that they have both usurped the label and spoiled the reputation of the real thing. And there are those who praise the "free market" simply because they fear that, otherwise, they will be exposed as heretics, accused of being socialists, perhaps even driven from public life. This is the case of many liberals. Reflexive invocations of the power of markets, the "magic" of markets, and the virtues of a "free enterprise system" therefore remain staples of political speech on both sides of the political aisle. However, they have been emptied of practical content, and the speakers know it.
...the Left has been doing too little thinking of its own. Liberals have yet to develop a coherent post-Reagan theory of the world, let alone a policy program informed by the political revelations, world policy changes and scientific realities. ...In consequence, new economic issues emerging under the influence of pressing events are dangerously underexamined. These issues include war, climate change, energy supply, corruption and fraud including election fraud, the collapse of public governing capacity, the perilous position of the international dollar and the position of immigrants in American society. These issues form the crux of the future of economic policy ...but none of these issues is geting more than passing development as yet from those to whom liberals look for ideas.
Re-read that last passage and ask if you haven't felt that same way, particularly since the ascendancy of Stephen Harper. There are so many issues that should be shaping our national policy - economic, social, military and international - that seem discarded by those who chart our nation's path, those who today write our grandchildren's future.
It seems as though, with each grand trade deal (they're not "free" trade, nothing of the sort), we give up aspects of state sovereignty to the corporate sector until, eventually, the state becomes only partially governable without the acquiescence of the new multinational power partner. The political caste has enfeebled its ability to govern coherently by shackles it freely clasped to its wrists and ankles. Our leaders have, both wittingly and unwittingly, become agents of the looter class.
In Galbraith's book, "The End of Normal." He describes the 1% as the "looter class" who have been on a rampage of wealth accumulation since the early stages of neoliberalism. They have siphoned an enormous amount of wealth out of the blue and white collar working classes that serve them. They didn't set out to buy influence with government. They aimed higher - to own government. That was achieved, in the United States in particular, when the US quietly transitioned from democracy to plutocracy. That almost unnoticed transition was documented in 2014 when Princeton published an extensive study by two profs, Gilens (Princeton) and Page (Northwestern) proving that, when the public or national interest conflicted with the narrow, private interest, the private interest usually prevailed.
So, once you've pocketed about as much wealth as you can without sparking a revolution and you own government, what's left? How about labour - as in paid work. What if the wages that used to go to workers could be intercepted by automation, robots, artificial intelligence.
Galbraith demonstrates the obsolescence of paid work using the example of a modern smart phone. He looks at all the devices we once required that have now been displaced by one small device we carry in a pocket or purse. Telephones. Cameras. Scanners. Computers. GPS. Fax machines and much more.
We once bought all of those devices and those devices resulted from labour - paid work. As those jobs were made redundant we watched it unfold and said nothing. Hell, I'm a lawyer. My job is secure. They can't automate me. I'm an architect. My job's secure. They can't automate me. I'm a doctor. My job is secure. They can't automate me. There's no low-wage alternative to me. Except they can, there is and they have.
While innovation often produces great wealth, it has also often been disruptive to labor, society, and world order. In light of ongoing advances in artificial intelligence (“AI”), we should prepare for the possibility of extreme disruption, and act to mitigate its negative impacts.
Properly enacted, the Windfall Clause could address several potential problems with AI-driven economic growth. The distribution of profits could compensate those rendered faultlessly unemployed due to advances in technology, mitigate potential increases in inequality, and smooth the economic transition for the most vulnerable. It provides AI labs with a credible, tangible mechanism to demonstrate their commitment to pursuing advanced AI for the common global good. Finally, it provides a concrete suggestion that may stimulate other proposals and discussion about how best to mitigate AI-driven disruption.