Home > Uncategorized > Debates About Governance and Privatization Are Beside the Point When AI is about to Displace Millions of Jobs

Debates About Governance and Privatization Are Beside the Point When AI is about to Displace Millions of Jobs

January 12, 2017

Diane Ravitch linked one of her blog posts to an Education Week article by Marc Tucker that discussed whether the US should follow the UK’s lead in re-instituting a model of schooling that sorts and selects based on aptitude as measured by standardized tests.

Having just reviewed Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy by the Executive Office of the President, I find myself thinking that the debates on how schools should function and whether they should be privatized to be immaterial and a diversion from the reality that is staring our country in the face and the consequences of that reality on our education system from Pre-K through grade 12. The section the report that is particularly astonishing is “AI and the Labor Market: The Near Term”, which predicts driving jobs are particularly vulnerable to elimination based on “…the current trajectory of AI technology”. Friends who work in investments are forecasting the advent of driver-less trucks and cars within a decade, an advent that would eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs. Moreover, analyses cited in the report forecast that “…83% of the jobs making less than $20 per hour would come under pressure from automation as compared to 31% of the jobs making between $20 and $40 dollars per hour and 4% of jobs making above $40 per hour”.

If 2,000,000 current jobs that do not require high-level skills are going to disappear forever, what kinds of jobs will take their place and, more importantly, what kinds of skills will the new jobs require? the report foresees four categories of work:

  • Engagement: This refers to engagement between humans and AI technologies. The report foresees AI technology serving as “Augmented Intelligence” in the same way computers augment the work of clerks and managers. This should increase the productivity but will not necessarily expand the workforce.
  • Development: Someone will need to design the AI technologies and write and maintain the software that runs on them. These new jobs will clearly require an advanced skill set. The report suggests that “…development may include those specializing in the liberal arts and social sciences… who can give input as the new technologies grapple with more social complexities and moral dilemmas”. This, of course, assumes that “social complexities and moral dilemmas” will need to be dealt with, an assumption that also assumes that some government oversight of the implementation of technology is both feasible ad desirable.
  • Supervision: The report envisions an increase in jobs related to the “…monitoring, licensing, and repair of AI”. Like the development jobs, these will require a higher level of education than the jobs they are displacing.
  • Response to paradigm shifts: This catch-all category assumes that the advent of driverless cars, for example, will necessitate regulatory and engineering changes as well as changes in urban planning. The report also sees increases in jobs like cybersecurity.

While the report is rosy in its forecasts regarding the advancement of technology, it also includes some sobering notions about what the future may hold. For example, one school of thought (see Brynjolfsson and McAfee) notes that the current economic trends indicate that “superstars” may benefit from technological advancement while most workers will experience a decline in their wages. The report notes that this would “…exacerbate the current trend in the rising fraction of total income going to the top .01%”. 

The report offers some ideas for how publicly funded schooling should respond to this change in the workplace.

  • Prepare all children with college- and career- ready skills in math reading, computer science and critical thinking
  • Address the “…low levels of proficiency in basic math and reading for millions of Americans”, specifically the performance gap between low income children and those raised in affluence.
  • Increase the enrollment in high quality pre-schools, where our country ranks 28th out of the 38 developed economies. This section also emphasized the importance of intervening early with those children raised in poverty since they fall behind early and never catch up.
  • Provide all workers and children with access to affordable post-secondary education.
  • Dramatically expand access to training and re-training. The report cites data indicating that our nation spends .1 percent of its GDP on the training and retraining of active employees other nations spend .6 of their GDP…. and we are currently spending less than half of what we did 30 years ago.

Achieving each these goals for schooling will require more money. Our current paradigm is that displaced workers should fend for themselves. That should either be expected to move where the jobs are or pay for more schooling by borrowing and if they borrow to attend a school or program that is ineffective it is their problem. I would argue that this paradigm is fueled by the notion that “government is the problem” and that, in turn, contributes to the despair that led to the election of Mr. Trump. Those of us who want to see public education succeed need to advocate for publicly funded government sponsored re-training programs and, in so doing, help those displaced workers understand that their support for publicly funded schooling will help them a lot more than railing against the overpaid union teachers and “government schools” that failed to prepare them for the world they are living and working in today.

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