Home Community 3 Questions: Shaping the longer term of labor in an age of AI

3 Questions: Shaping the longer term of labor in an age of AI

3 Questions: Shaping the longer term of labor in an age of AI

Q: What was the impetus for creating the MIT Shaping the Way forward for Work Initiative?

David Autor: The last 40 years have been increasingly difficult for the 65 percent of U.S. staff who do not need a four-year college degree. Globalization, automation, deindustrialization, de-unionization, and changes in policy and beliefs have led to fewer jobs, declining wages, and lower job quality, leading to widening inequality and shrinking opportunities.

The prevailing economic view has been that this erosion is inevitable — that the most effective we will do is give attention to the provision side, educating staff to satisfy market demands, or perhaps providing some offsetting transfers to those that have lost employment opportunities.

Underpinning this fatalism is a paradigm which says that the aspects shaping demand for work, reminiscent of technological change, are immutable: staff must adapt to those forces or be left behind. This assumption is fake. The direction of technology is something we elect, and the institutions that shape how these forces play out (e.g., minimum wage laws, regulations, collective bargaining, public investments, social norms) are also endogenous.

To challenge a prevailing narrative, it isn’t enough to easily say that it’s flawed — to actually change a paradigm we must lead by showing a viable alternative pathway. We must answer what form of work we would like and the way we will make policies and shape technology that builds that future.

Q: What are your goals for the initiative?

Daron Acemoglu: The initiative’s ambition isn’t modest. Simon, David, and I are hoping to make advances in latest empirical work to interpret what has happened within the recent past and understand how various kinds of technologies may very well be impacting prosperity and inequality. We would like to contribute to the emergence of a coherent framework that may inform us about how institutions and social forces shape the trajectory of technology, and that helps us to discover, empirically and conceptually, the inefficiencies and the misdirections of technology. And on this basis, we hope to contribute to policy discussions through which policy, institutions, and norms are a part of what shapes the longer term of technology in a more useful direction. Last but not least, our mission isn’t simply to do our own research, but to assist construct an ecosystem through which other, especially younger, researchers are inspired to explore these issues.

Q: What are your next steps?

Simon Johnson: David, Daron, and I plan for this initiative to maneuver beyond producing insightful and groundbreaking research — our aim is to discover modern pro-worker ideas that policymakers, the private sector, and civil society can use. We are going to proceed to translate research into practice by often convening students, scholars, policymakers, and practitioners who’re shaping the longer term of labor — to incorporate fortifying and diversifying the pipeline of emerging scholars who produce policy-relevant research around our core themes.

We may also produce a variety of resources to bring our work to wider audiences. Last fall, David, Daron, and I wrote the initiative’s inaugural policy memo, entitled “Can we Have Pro-Employee AI? Selecting a path of machines in service of minds.” Our thesis is that, as an alternative of specializing in replacing staff by automating job tasks as quickly as possible, the most effective path forward is to give attention to developing worker-augmenting AI tools that enable less-educated or less-skilled staff to perform more expert tasks — in addition to creating work, in the shape of recent productive tasks, for staff across skill and education levels.

As we move forward, we may also search for opportunities to have interaction globally with a big selection of students working on related issues.


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