Past technological waves have created the same hopes and the same worries over job loss.
Robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) have fed two kinds of dreams, the first of the hopeful pleasant sort, and the other a nightmare. The first tells of great abundance, convenience and wealth. The other warns of job loss and widespread unemployment, among both workers and the managerial class. Both have some validity, but only up to a point. AI, like most technological advances before it, will offer society great advances in prosperity and productivity, though they will emerge at a slower pace than the enthusiasts predict. It will also take some jobs, but contrary to much commentary on the subject, it will not lead to mass unemployment. It will instead likely create more new jobs than it destroys and will create occupations that didn’t exist before.
Popular commentary in the United States on this matter has given both dreams lavish attention. Describing AI and modern robotics as different from any previous technological waves, much analysis gushes about the prospects for immense convenience and great wealth. Some pieces describe a future of aristocratic-like lifestyles, except with robot instead of human servants. At the same time, commentary worries about the tendency for the new technology to eliminate jobs. A January 2018 Gallup poll concluded: “Economists agree” AI is the “single biggest threat to future job growth.” Such thinking, especially within the tech community, goes on to envision the rise of a large class of permanently unemployed. It almost always concludes that the nation must care for these people and protect social cohesion by providing a universal basic income (UBI) to all, financing it with a tax on the vast wealth created by AI. Depending on who is speaking, the tax would fall either on robots themselves, their users, or their producers (but seldom the person calling for the tax.)