For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Computers and populism: artificial intelligence, jobs, and politics in the near term"

by Levy, Frank (2018)


I project the near-term future of work to ask whether job losses induced by artificial intelligence will increase the appeal of populist politics. The paper first explains how computers and machine learning automate workplace tasks. Automated tasks help to both create and eliminate jobs and I show why job elimination centres in blue-collar and clerical work—impacts similar to those of manufactured imports and offshored services. I sketch the near-term evolution of three technologies aimed at blue-collar and clerical occupations: autonomous long-distance trucks, automated customer service responses, and industrial robotics. I estimate that in the next 5–7 years, the jobs lost to each of these technologies will be modest but visible. I then outline the structure of populist politics. Populist surges are rare but a populist candidate who pits ‘the people’ (truck drivers, call centre operators, factory operatives) against ‘the elite’ (software developers, etc.) will be mining many of the US regional and education fault lines that were part of the 2016 presidential election.

Key Passage

It is possible that artificial general intelligence—AI that out-performs humans in all ways—will arrive in several decades and the resulting employment disruptions will dwarf the disruptions described in this paper. But between today and 2040, the AI that already exists will disrupt the nation’s occupational structure. The question is whether these disruptions will seriously destabilize the country’s political and social structure. Part of the answer involves the speed of technical disruptions. The evidence in this article is mixed, but on balance there appears to be some time to develop anticipatory policies to assist people who will lose jobs and other people who, under earlier circumstances, would have expected to take those jobs. (p.414)


Artificial Intelligence, Worker Replacement, Future Of Work, Technology


Political Theory, Unemployment, AI and Computerisation, Automation

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