Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Economics of Strong AI

So a friend asked me:
Artificial intelligence is going to put humans out of work. Or so I hear. Similar arguments about past technologies have proven wrong, but I have to admit that I can't imagine how humans will earn their keep in a post-strong-AI world. Perhaps some will be housed and fed as pets. So, should I be devising a self-sufficient homestead and preparing for the worst?
This is actually something I've thought a lot about (how could I not, my master's degree from MIT was in AI), randomly planet money covered this topic just last month with a series of episodes though I thought this was one of their less convincing set of episodes, although I agree with much of it.

I mean, yes, there could be some movie style robot rebellion, but I see no reason why we can't engineer robots to be productive without giving them enough sentience to want to overthrow us (like Asimov had assumed). So assuming we avoid the Terminator scenario, I see the future as rather utopian

In the case of benevolent robots, the thing to remember is that a robot is simply a form of capital. Whoever owns the robot gets all the returns of the robot. So we could easily setup tax policy to redistribute the capital equally. The only reason we don't do that now is because it would destroy incentives to work. But assuming robots don't need incentives, that wouldn't be a problem.

Also, i don't think scarcity can ever be eliminated. We can see this in Star Trek. There will always be jobs that only humans can do. Sure, they can replicate anything they want, but people still like Cisco's family's homemade gumbo, or Picard's handmade french wine, rather than replicated wine. Objects have stories. and we care about how they were made. We can already make a reproduction of the Mona Lisa to be as good as the original, but we will pay a million times more for the one painted by da Vincii's hand. We will still want to see human dancers, and human musicians, and human athletes, etc.. and yes, these are all sort of winner-take-all professions, where we mostly want to see and hear the best, but I think there is room for the rest of us to find fulfilling jobs. We will still appreciate local bands, and want to watch local sports leagues live, and participate in live theater.

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