In the legal world, we are fond of saying that Artificial Intelligence tools won’t replace lawyers, but work with them to be better.
What if I told you that is probably a lie?
Rob Toews wrote an article recently that suggests that eventually AI will end up replacing a ton of jobs, actually, but we are too afraid to say that out loud, let alone plan for it.
He uses chess as the example. Once upon a time, a computer beat Gary Kasparov. People spent years saying, “sure, but a chess player with the computer would be the ultimate model”. Except now, no one suggests that. The chess AI is so good by itself, that the human player serves no purpose in the game.
In the non-game world, I don’t think AI is currently capable of completely replacing human work. There are still too many gaps, too many programming and algorithm bugs. But, if the chess example is an indication of how the AI will continue to improve, it’s simply wishful thinking to pretend that we can simply re-train everyone who is replaced by AI tools.
As Rob says:
AI’s core promise—the reason we are pursuing it to begin with—is that it will be able to do things more accurately, more cheaply and more quickly than humans can do them today. Once AI can deliver on this promise, there will be no practical or economic justification for humans to continue to be involved in many fields.
Whether you want to talk about truck drivers and radiologists as he does, or document reviewers, contract reviewers, trust and will attorneys, legal technologists, or any other work where eventually a computer can do the job more efficiently and less expensively, those jobs will go away.
So if you’re a trial lawyer, maybe you’ll still be the one making an argument to a jury, but a computer will be doing all the research, writing the motions, organizing the evidence and presenting it in court. There won’t be humans there anymore, because they aren’t as efficiently or correctly.
That’s a lot of work. That’s a lot of jobs. There will not be an option to retrain tens of millions of people to do something else. There won’t be enough “something else” to keep the total population employed. This is the little secret no one wants to tell you, because we don’t have a plan for it.
Look, it’s going to take some time, but eventually, it’s coming. We’ve only begun to have conversations around things like Universal Basic Income, or free healthcare, and restructuring the economy. Many, if not most, people are against these things, because they don’t fit with the current world, and frankly, if I thought the world was going to stay the same, I might agree that some of these ideas are probably taking things to far. But, what are we going to do when we simply don’t need as many workers? What does society looks like when AI is doing a lot of the economic work, and 1/3 maybe even 1/2 of the population of any country isn’t needed for work any more?
When that happens, tying healthcare and income to work will no longer make any sense. Tying our value and self-esteem to our work will no longer make any sense. Assuming that everyone can fill their days, and find meaningful things to do, is not realistic.
Maybe most importantly, how do we create a fair, and inclusive, society when such a large percentage of the population isn’t needed to work, when we measure all of those things through employment?
We should be talking about these things now, as hard as it will be, because telling young people that they will be fine and that their future will be filled with AI-Augmented work, is simply not going to be the reality many of them face in the future. We should probably know what to do about that, instead of waiting for the societal disaster that follows to realize that we had it wrong the whole time.
Alas, given recent events, I’m not hopeful that we’ll do anything until it’s way too late for way too many.
Also, go read Rob’s article for more.
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