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The AI Debate We Need

Rapid advances in artificial intelligence and related technologies have contributed to fears of widespread job losses and social disruptions in the coming years, giving a sense of urgency to debates about the future of work. But such discussions, though surely worth having, only scratch the surface of what an AI society might look like.

BARCELONA – One can hardly go a day without hearing about a new study describing the far-reaching implications of advances in artificial intelligence. According to countless consultancies, think tanks, and Silicon Valley celebrities, AI applications are poised to change our lives in ways we can scarcely imagine.

The biggest change concerns employment. There is widespread speculation about how many jobs will soon fall victim to automation, but most forecasters agree that it will be in the millions. And it is not just blue-collar jobs that are at stake. So, too, are high-skilled white-collar professions, including law, accounting, and medicine. Entire industries could be disrupted or decimated, and traditional institutions such as universities might have to downsize or close.

Such concerns are understandable. In the current political economy, jobs are the main vehicle for wealth creation and income distribution. When people have jobs, they have the means to consume, which drives production forward. It is not surprising that debates about AI would center on the prospect of mass unemployment, and on the forms of compensation that could become necessary in the future.

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