The purpose of this paper is to examine the likely impact of AI robotics technology on the labor market through the lens of comparative advantage.
The first section reviews the recent success of AI in outperforming humans in cognitive intense activities such as Go, poker and other strategic games, which portends a shift in comparative advantage in human brain power work to machines. It notes the potential for a portfolio of specialized computer algorithms to compete with human general intelligence in work. The analysis contributes to the debate between economists dubious about claims that AI robotics will disrupt work and futurists who expect many jobs to be fully automated in coming years. It advances three “laws of robo-economics” to guide thinking about the new technologies and presents evidence that growing robot intensity has begun to impact the job market.
The paper finds that the case for AI robotics substantially changing the world of work and the distribution of income is more compelling than the case that it will have similar impacts on wages and employment as past technological changes. It advances an ownership solution to spread the benefits of AI robot-driven automation widely.
To the extent that who owns the robots rules the world, it argues for a concerted social effort to widen the “who” in ownership from the few to the many. It reviews policies to expand employee ownership of their own firm and of the stream of revenue via profit-sharing and gain-sharing bonuses. But the paper notes that ensuring that growth of AI robotics benefits all through ownership will require expansion of workers’ and citizens’ stake in business broadly, through collective investment via pension funds, individual investment in mutual funds and development of sovereign wealth funds.