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Rapid developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI), especially the sub domains of Reinforcement Learning and Machine Learning are high on the agendas of government policy makers in many countries. Last year the US Government* issued comprehensive reports on AI and its possible benefits and impact on society, likewise the European Union and other agencies are also active in reviewing policies on AI, Robotics and associated technology. As recent as one week ago the UK government initiated a new request for comments to its AI subcommittee – What are the implications of Artificial Intelligence?
On the back of the high level of interest from governments and policy makers around the world a new study, Artificial Intelligence and National Security, by researchers at the Harvard Kennedy Center on behalf of the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) recommends three goals for developing future policy on AI and national security
- Preserving U.S. technological leadership,
- Supporting peaceful and commercial use, and
- Mitigating catastrophic risk
The authors say their goals for developing policy are developed by lessons learned in nuclear, aerospace, cyber, and biotech and that Advances in AI will affect national security by driving change in three areas: military superiority, information superiority, and economic superiority.
Setting out their position the authors make the case that existing AI developments “have significant potential for national security.”
Existing machine learning technology could enable high degrees of automation in labor-intensive activities such as satellite imagery analysis and cyber defense.
They further emphasize that AI has the potential to be as transformative as other major technologies, stating that future progress in AI has the potential to be a transformative national security technology, on a par with nuclear weapons, aircraft, computers, and biotech.
The changes they see in military superiority, information superiority, and economic superiority are outlined below:
For military superiority, they write progress in AI will both enable new capabilities and make existing capabilities affordable to a broader range of actors.
For example, commercially available, AI-enabled technology (such as long-range drone package delivery) may give weak states and non-state actors access to a type of long-range precision strike capability.
In the cyber domain, activities that currently require lots of high-skill labor, such as Advanced Persistent Threat operations, may in the future be largely automated and easily available on the black market.
For information superiority, they say AI will dramatically enhance capabilities for the collection and analysis of data, and also the creation of data.
In intelligence operations, this will mean that there are more sources than ever from which to discern the truth. However, it will also be much easier to lie persuasively.
AI-enhanced forgery of audio and video media is rapidly improving in quality and decreasing in cost. In the future, AI-generated forgeries will challenge the basis of trust across many institutions.
For economic superiority, they find that advances in AI could result in a new industrial revolution.
Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers has predicted that advances in AI and related technologies will lead to a dramatic decline in demand for labor such that the United States “may have a third of men between the ages of 25 and 54 not working by the end of this half century.”
Like the first industrial revolution, this will reshape the relationship between capital and labor in economies around the world. Growing levels of labor automation might lead developed countries to experience a scenario similar to the “resource curse.”
Also like the first industrial revolution, population size will become less important for national power. Small countries that develop a significant edge in AI technology will punch far above their weight.
Due to the significant impacts they see from AI they say that Government must formalize goals for technology safety and provide adequate resources, that government should both support and restrain commercial activity of AI and governments should provide more investment and oversight into the long term-focused strategic analyses on AI technology and its implications.
Noting that we are at an inflection point in Artificial Intelligence and autonomy, the researchers outline multiple areas they believe AI driven technologies will disrupt military capabilities – capabilities, which they say, will have far reaching consequences in warfare.
Policy makers around the world would do well to consider carefully the scenarios outlined in the study to ensure that AI technologies are adequately governed to provide assurances to citizens and ultimately to ensure that AI technologies benefit humanity.
*US Government and Agencies recent papers
June 2016—Defense Science Board: “Summer Study on Autonomy”
July 2016—Department of Defense Office of Net Assessment: “Summer Study: (Artificial) Intelligence: What questions should DoD be asking”
October 2016—National Science and Technology Council: “The National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan”
October 2016—National Science and Technology Council: “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence”
December 2016—Executive Office of the President: “Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy”
January 2017—JASON: “Perspectives on Research in Artificial Intelligence and Artificial General Intelligence Relevant to DoD
A new report released by the Whitehouse indicates that accelerating Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities will enable automation of some tasks that have long required human labor. The report authors indicate that these transformations will open up new opportunities for individuals, the economy, and society, but they will also disrupt the current livelihoods of millions of Americans. At a minimum, some occupations such as drivers and cashiers are likely to face displacement from or a restructuring of their current jobs.
The challenge for policymakers will be to update, strengthen, and adapt policies to respond to the economic effects of AI.
Although it is difficult to predict these economic effects precisely, the report suggests that policymakers should prepare for five primary economic effects:
- Positive contributions to aggregate productivity growth;
- Changes in the skills demanded by the job market, including greater demand for higher-level technical skills;
- Uneven distribution of impact, across sectors, wage levels, education levels, job types, and locations;
- Churning of the job market as some jobs disappear while others are created; and
- The loss of jobs for some workers in the short-run, and possibly longer depending on policy responses.
More generally, the report suggests three broad strategies for addressing the impacts of AI-driven automation across the whole U.S. economy:
- Invest in and develop AI for its many benefits;
- Educate and train Americans for jobs of the future; and
- Aid workers in the transition and empower workers to ensure broadly shared growth.
Key points from the report
The authors state it is unlikely that machines will exhibit broadly-applicable intelligence comparable to or exceeding that of humans in the next 20 years, it is to be expected that machines will continue to reach and exceed human performance on more and more tasks.
AI should be welcomed for its potential economic benefits. However there will be changes in the skills that workers need to succeed in the economy, and structural changes in the economy. Aggressive policy action will be needed to help Americans who are disadvantaged by these changes and to ensure that the enormous benefits of AI and automation are developed by and available to all.
Today, it may be challenging to predict exactly which jobs will be most immediately affected by AI-driven automation. Because AI is not a single technology, but rather a collection of technologies that are applied to specific tasks, the effects of AI will be felt unevenly through the economy. Some tasks will be more easily automated than others, and some jobs will be affected more than others—both negatively and positively. Some jobs may be automated away, while for others, AI-driven automation will make many workers more productive and increase demand for certain skills. Finally, new jobs are likely to be directly created in areas such as the development and supervision of AI as well as indirectly created in a range of areas throughout the economy as higher incomes lead to expanded demand.
Strategy #1: Invest in and develop AI for its many benefits. If care is taken to responsibly maximize its development, AI will make important, positive contributions to aggregate productivity growth, and advances in AI technology hold incredible potential to help the United States stay on the cutting edge of innovation. Government has an important role to play in advancing the AI field by investing in research and development. Among the areas for advancement in AI are cyberdefense and the detection of fraudulent transactions and messages. In addition, the rapid growth of AI has also dramatically increased the need for people with relevant skills from all backgrounds to support and advance the field. Prioritizing diversity and inclusion in STEM fields and in the AI community specifically, in addition to other possible policy responses, is a key part in addressing potential barriers stemming from algorithmic bias. Competition from new and existing firms, and the development of sound pro-competition policies, will increasingly play an important role in the creation and adoption of new technologies and innovations related to AI.
Strategy #2: Educate and train Americans for jobs of the future. As AI changes the nature of work and the skills demanded by the labor market, American workers will need to be prepared with the education and training that can help them continue to succeed. Delivering this education and training will require significant investments. This starts with providing all children with access to high-quality early education so that all families can prepare their students for continued education, as well as investing in graduating all students from high school college- and career- ready, and ensuring that all Americans have access to affordable post-secondary education. Assisting U.S. workers in successfully navigating job transitions will also become increasingly important; this includes expanding the availability of job-driven training and opportunities for lifelong learning, as well as providing workers with improved guidance to navigate job transitions.
Strategy #3: Aid workers in the transition and empower workers to ensure broadly shared growth. Policymakers should ensure that workers and job seekers are both able to pursue the job opportunities for which they are best qualified and best positioned to ensure they receive an appropriate return for their work in the form of rising wages. This includes steps to modernize the social safety net, including exploring strengthening critical supports such as unemployment insurance, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and putting in place new programs such as wage insurance and emergency aid for families in crisis. Worker empowerment also includes bolstering critical safeguards for workers and families in need, building a 21st century retirement system, and expanding healthcare access. Increasing wages, competition, and worker bargaining power, as well as modernizing tax policy and pursuing strategies to address differential geographic impact, will be important aspects of supporting workers and addressing concerns related to displacement amid shifts in the labor market.
Finally, if a significant proportion of Americans are affected in the short- and medium-term by AI-driven job displacements, US policymakers will need to consider more robust interventions, such as further strengthening the unemployment insurance system and countervailing job creation strategies, to smooth the transition.
I will add detailed comments and my thoughts as I digest the full report in the coming days.
Frank Levy an economist and Professor at MIT and Harvard, who work’s on technology’s impact on jobs and living standards, has written to assay the sensationalized fears of the overhyped study by Frey and Osborne. Levy indicates:
- The General Proposition – Computers will be subsuming an increasing share of current occupations – is unassailable.
- The Paper (Frey and Osborne study) is a set of guesses with lots of padding to increase the appearance of “scientific precision.”
- The authors’ understanding of computer technology appears to be average for economists (= poor for computer scientists). By my personal guess, they are overestimating what current technology can do.
Researchers at the OECD analyzed the Frey and Osborne study and conducted their own research on tasks and jobs and concluded that: “automation was unlikely to destroy large numbers of jobs.”
I have also been quite critical of the Frey and Osborne study based on my understanding of technological advances, which they claim to be way more ahead than it is:
We argue that it is largely already technologically possible to automate almost any task, provided that sufficient amounts of data are gathered for pattern recognition.
With the exception of three bottlenecks, namely:
“Perception and manipulation.”
Frey and Osborne divided the tasks involved in jobs along two dimensions: cognitive vs. manual and non-routine vs. routine. They then identified three aspects (bottlenecks) of a job making it less likely that a computer would be able to replicate the tasks of that job: First, “perception and manipulation” in unpredictable tasks such as handling emergencies, performing medical treatment, and the like. Second, “creative intelligence” such as cooking, drawing, or any other task involving creative values relying on novel combinations of inspiration; Third, “social intelligence”, or the real-time recognition of human emotion.
Race with the machines
Now a new research paper, released in July 2016, by researchers at the Centre for European Economic Research has indicated that technology has in fact had the opposite impact and is a net creator of jobs not destroyer (at least in 27 European countries – and I suspect the same is true for other regions).
The paper, Racing With or Against the Machine? Evidence from Europe by authors Terry Gregory, Anna Salomons, and Ulrich Zierahn (Gregory and Zierahn were also two of the OECD paper authors) looked at the impact of routine replacing technology on jobs and concluded:
Overall, we find that the net effect of routine-replacing technological change (RRTC ) on labor demand has been positive. In particular, our baseline estimates indicate that RRTC has increased labor demand by up to 11.6 million jobs across Europe – a non-negligible effect when compared to a total employment growth of 23 million jobs across these countries over the period considered. Importantly, this does not result from the absence of significant replacement of labor by capital. To the contrary, by performing a decomposition rooted in our theoretical model, we show that RRTC has in fact decreased labor demand by 9.6 million jobs as capital replaces labor in production. However, this has been overcompensated by product demand and spillover effects which have together increased labor demand by some 21 million jobs. As such, fears of technological change destroying jobs may be overstated: at least for European countries over the period considered, we can conclude that labor has been racing with rather than against the machine in spite of these substitution effects.
My research of companies using robots has also categorically shown, through factual evidence, that those companies have created significantly more jobs than have been lost due to technological change. Similarly a detailed analysis prepared for the European Commission Director General of Communications Networks, Content & Technology by Fraunhofer about the impact of robotic systems on employment in the EU found that:
European manufacturing companies do not generally substitute human workforce capital by capital investments in robot technology. On the contrary, it seems that the robots’ positive effects on productivity and total sales are a leverage to stimulate employment growth.
So if robots are not job killers what is the real problem?
We need to fill the skills gap
I have argued before that we have a skills problem. Jobs all over the world are not being filled because of lack of skilled personnel to fill them.
New and emerging technologies both excite and worry. Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is certainly a minefield for both exuberance and fears.
By definition, there is a knowledge and skills gap during the emerging stages of any new technology, Robotics and AI is no exception: researchers and engineers are still learning about these technologies and their applications. But, in the meantime, hope, fears and hype naturally and irresistibly fill this vacuum of information.
Depending on whom you ask Robots and AI is predicted to help solve the world’s problems. Or by building this devil, these technologies may scorch the earth and fulfill a prophecy of Armageddon.
On the other side, especially with respect to AI, what it will most likely do – if and only if adopted by major corporations and governments — is foster technological and institutional betterment at a frenetic pace through improved health care, solving climate problems, helping those with sight problems, helping to get much needed aid spread more equitably.
We need education and training fitted to a different labour market, with more focus on creativity, flexibility and social skills. We need more Moonshots from Governments and Industry as so well described by Mariana Mazzucato in her book the Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector.
Machines are there to augment human intelligence and ingenuity, to improve our environment and workplace, we need to stop fearing the machines and learn how to better integrate them into our processes, destroy the fears and improve productivity. We are not going to stop technological progress, if we embrace it we are better prepared to gain from it.