In 2017, I wrote about the rise of automation and how it would disrupt the economy. This topic got renewed interest with the release of generative AI-like ChatGPT and Midjourney. Now, we’re at the start of the AI gold rush, as big tech companies like Google and Meta want to get in. Self-driving cars are on the streets in San Francisco. AI-generated images go viral on social media.
I’ve used ChatGPT to help with my resume and write cover letters. I’ve also used 7-Eleven’s mobile checkout to skip the line. They’re legitimate time-savers. I’ve begun the process of integrating AI into my life in select ways, and I don’t see that as bad. It’s still evolving, but I can’t deny its usefulness.
We’ve reached an alarming point in history where everyone’s forced to consider if a robot can do their job. I can’t recommend that anyone go to college because who knows what automation will do to a broad swath of skills? What about displaced gig workers without any form of social safety net? Do we take contract jobs that amount to training AI that will replace us?
I’ve had conversations with friends about changing majors because they’d be competing with bots. I’ve talked to gig workers about finding an exit strategy in a few years. But I’ve also talked to job counselors who don’t seem to have any sort of plan or consideration to what automation will do. Are colleges even equipped to handle such a rapid societal transformation?
A lot of “experts” in the AI debate believe we should be building social safety nets now in anticipation for the upcoming waves of mass unemployment. But there really hasn’t been any mobilization around, say, universal basic income or universal healthcare. Many people still don’t understand how much of an impact these oncoming shifts will have. Back when Humans Need Not Apply first released on YouTube, CGP Grey warned that “[lost jobs] will be a huge problem if we’re not prepared and we’re not prepared.” We’re still not prepared.
I’ve seen token forms of resistance, the personal vows to not use AI-generated content. I still don’t use AI-generated images or writing in my creative work. But will consumers be able to stem this tide? Will the more ethical option of content production be rewarded enough to justify choosing it? Or will the increase in productivity and volume crush the old method?
We can’t afford to treat this like something in the far-off distance. While it’s in a bubble-state now, I’ve no doubts this will lead to permanent changes in the economy. I don’t see us going back from this. We need to start making concrete plans to deal with the disruptions that are right around the corner. Otherwise, we’ll suddenly find ourselves unable to deal with robot overlords.