Source: Al Arabiya
Author: Omar Al-Ubaydli
Tuesday 28 March 2023 11:49:15
For the first time, all labor market echelons simultaneously fear losing their jobs due to a new technology, and not just a small minority of “luddites.” The good news is that this offers humanity the chance to enter a new vision for daily life, where toiling in the workplace is consigned to history textbooks. The key is getting politics right: the fruits of this new expansive technology must be shared with everyone, though not necessarily equally.
In medieval Europe, around 90 percent of the population was employed in farming. Moreover, these jobs were objectively horrible: long hours, zero sick leave, a high likelihood of workplace injuries, and mind-numbing tasks. The only virtue was working outside – assuming the weather was good. To cap it off, laboring in the fields all day was still insufficient for avoiding starvation, as the threat of failed harvests and exploitative landlords always loomed large.
Today, thanks to dramatic technological improvements, the European agricultural sector accounts for less than five percent of the workforce, and there’s more than enough food for every mouth. The descendants of the wretches who toiled from dawn until dusk now have wonderful jobs – relatively speaking – whether in terms of wages or task quality. While extreme poverty persists today, the average 21st century person lives a much better life than arguably even a medieval baron, let alone a typical serf.
The point of this vignette is that everyone losing their job due to technological progress is potentially a great thing as long as two conditions are met. First, the technology has to be productivity-enhancing, meaning that we can produce more goods and services to consume. Second, virtually everyone ends up better off than under the old system.
In the case of ChatGPT, everyone is staring down the barrel: doctors, lawyers, management consultants, programmers, data scientists, and so on. We could witness a transition as stunning as the slow-baked agricultural revolution witnessed over the last five centuries, whereby only a small fraction of existing jobs persists into the future.
Crucially, this development will be fundamentally productivity-improving: when a company lays off its salesperson or marketing executive because ChatGPT can do the job adequately, this means that we are producing approximately the same output as before in exchange for the small amount of electricity it takes to power the computer, and without the hours of human work. That’s basically a good thing.
You are probably asking yourself two questions: how will these people earn a living? And even if they secure a government handout, how will they derive meaning from life without a job? For the first, this is a political problem that we need to solve. Fortunately, it’s not too hard: the most intractable political conundrum are the ones that involve managing a shrinking pie, and seeing who will have to accept the biggest haircut.
Coming up with rules that ensure that everyone benefits from a growing pie is eminently feasible, if we can have a sensible societal dialogue. That means two groups of crazies must be kept at bay.
First, the insatiable narcissists who might be in a position to appropriate all of the benefits of artificial intelligence and want to exclude the masses as part of a grand social Darwinism purge. They must learn to accept that everyone deserves to live a dignified life.
Second, the hyper-egalitarians who would rather burn the entire system down than let a few people get super rich, even if everyone else is still way better off than before. We must be mature enough to control our primitive sense of envy.
However, an effective system of redistributive taxation may be insufficient for social harmony if we can’t find jobs for the 95 percent made redundant by ChatGPT, as they are forced to suffer the indignity of living off government handouts in perpetuity. There are two ways of dealing with this threat.
The first is that we might find jobs for them, just like we did for all of the serfs who used to literally break their backs working on 13th century farms. Lots of labor-saving technologies in the past have spawned new jobs: ATMs transformed bank tellers into financial advisors, and telecommunications transformed messengers into phone technicians.
Should ChatGPT terminally end the need for jobs, we can take the second path, which is to learn to get meaning from life without having a job. Humans have an innate need to feel productive, but does it really need to be the eight-hour job that most of us hate? With a guaranteed minimum income, we are free to volunteer for the causes we are passionate about, to produce expressive art, to socialize, to pray, to read, and so on. We can even spend more time with our children! To me, the prospect of being free is thrilling. Life is about the relationships we build, not the computers we stare at to make sure we have food on our tables.
A final neurosis is the fear that the oligarchs who control these advanced technologies might enslave the rest of humanity. I don’t think this is realistic because if technology is good enough to make us all lose our jobs, it won’t even be worth subjugating humans. Androids will be able to deliver every service that a human could desire, with higher quality, and without the need to worry about coercing the human and keeping them in line.
As an illustration, we can enslave virtually every animal. When our technology was primitive, beasts of burden were forced into labor, pulling plows, and transporting humans. Now, unless you are a veritable equinophile, the effort it takes to get a horse to be your steed is too high compared to the cost of hailing a taxi or buying a car, and so the horse is free from your bondage.
It may seem demeaning to think that your labor is so inferior in quality to a robot’s that it’s not even worth forcing you to work against your will, but that still sounds better than the job that most of us have at present. We should learn to cherish our freedom, like the animals we sneer at. The development of ChatGPT may be the biggest act of emancipation humans ever experience.