How AI could create a world of haves and have nots

Artificial intelligence is all over the news, with tech titans arguing over whether it will be a force for good or bad. An equally important question is whether AI will stratify society even more, and create a world of haves and have nots.

AI is already impacting multiple industries and will take over many blue collar and white collar jobs in the years to come. The speed and severity with which this happens are what creates the biggest challenges for the US and countries around the world. Add to this the geopolitical implications, recently outlined in an important op ed by Kai Fu Lee, and even weak AI can be seen as a scary thing.

So, we need to be proactive and create alternative career paths as AI impacts jobs and takes away many employment opportunities. Let’s look at what this means in the near term (next decade), medium term (10-20 years) and long-term (20-plus years).

As AI grows in the coming years, mostly blue collar jobs will first be impacted. The political reality is that this will likely not cause major policy changes as higher earners remain largely unaffected by job changes and possibly benefit from AI’s positives. As autonomous vehicles run by AI take over from taxi drivers (and make transportation more reliable, faster and open up spaces currently occupied by parking garages) and robots with AI take over all but specialized work on factory floors (making production costs lower which hopefully translates into less expensive goods), blue collar workers will have few alternatives to pivot to in their careers.

We will likely see increased polarization in society unless programs are put into place early on to create “soft landings” through training in careers which cannot be automated easily.  For some, this could be jobs with heavy interpersonal interactions, for others learning the basics of working with and programming AI. Overall though, it is likely to be a tough time for those without a strong education base.

By the late 2020s, AI will become commonplace and most blue collar jobs will likely be a shadow of their former selves. In addition, white collar workers in areas including healthcare and financial services will also be under pressure: who needs a lab technician to read your X-ray when an AI can do it faster, cheaper and at least as well? To be sure, white collar workers are going to be under pressure long before this, but it will take some time before the professional class sees their career options change markedly. For better or worse, the time that this does happen is when we are likely to see major societal changes.

More white collar workers will transition to jobs that can only be done by humans, but this, too, will be limited. Low-level programmers who understand coding may be able to quickly learn how to program an AI, but others outside of tech, like lawyers — many of whose jobs will be eliminated — will face a much more daunting transition to new careers.

There is no consensus, but within the next twenty years, we will likely see the emergence of AI at least as smart as human beings. This could lead to huge benefits for society by allowing a benevolent strong AI to work with and for human beings, a highly classist society where the haves who own the strong AI and have nots who do not live in conflict, or possibly a merging of human and AI such that we become something greater than we currently are.

For the lucky few who own and work for the companies that control the best AI, they may consolidate the wealth, power and insight to dominate society. This brings up a fundamental question of whether AI should be controlled by large tech companies or disseminated more broadly? To complicate things, AI works best by leveraging network effects, so breaking up the Amazons and Baidus of the world into smaller enterprises would be foolish and outmoded. Whoever owns and controls the best AI, the network effects need to be maintained otherwise the benefits of AI are destroyed. To be sure, Google and others have opened up some AI tools to the masses, but clearly, they have and will keep the best tech for themselves.

A number of our best minds believe that the rise and concentration of AI will require tax rates to be increased to fund social welfare for the large part of society that will be displaced. This is certainly one option that has merits (allowing people to perform useful but currently underpaid jobs or freeing them to become lifelong learners), but whether this is done through a Universal Basic Income or another form it may prove difficult to achieve this without open conflict.

Another option is to make the big data that will feed AI and basic AI modules available to all – a creative commons of data and AI. This could enable blue collar and white collar professionals alike to innovate and create small and medium sized businesses that leverage the growth of AI. This would require strong government intervention but also empower the private sector rather than taxing it.

A further option is to place the best AI in the hands of the government itself and allow people to pursue their passions while having their basic needs attended to from the wealth generated by government. This is the “Star Trek” future of science fiction but is a distinct possibility – if we get comfortable with everyone receiving a government hand out. Indeed, the concept of money itself would be outmoded in such a society.

Added to all of this are the foreign policy implications of AI, which Kai Fu Lee correctly addresses in his recent writing. So if you are living in the US or China consider yourself lucky: your government has far more choice (and say) when it comes to the rise of AI. At the very least, these two nations will not have to grapple with the limited power that arises from reacting to the technological revolutions of others.

So what does this all mean? Are we on a path to a world of haves and have nots? Maybe — but we have several alternate paths we can take if we are honest, thoughtful, and forward-thinking. AI is here to stay and will create many positive outcomes. The negative depictions in science fiction may or may not happen. In the meantime, the tremendous impact on society will happen — so be ahead of the curve, be part of the debate, and be proactive in finding equitable solutions.

Ed Sappin is the CEO of Sappin Global Strategies (SGS), a strategy and investment firm dedicated to the innovation economy.



Post Author: martin

Martin is an enthusiastic programmer, a webdeveloper and a young entrepreneur. He is intereted into computers for a long time. In the age of 10 he has programmed his first website and since then he has been working on web technologies until now. He is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of and Online Magazines. His colleagues appreciate him as a passionate workhorse, a fan of new technologies, an eternal optimist and a dreamer, but especially the soul of the team for whom he can do anything in the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.