Man and machine: who will be the victor?

The unstoppable advancement of automatization and robotization has foreseeable and unforeseeable consequences. Our interviewee, Jonathan Ruane an expert in this field and researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) strongly recommends learning until the end of our days. Keep ‘upgrading’ ourselves, so that we can adapt to the challenges that come with the ever-evolving technological advancements. He also urges leaders of pioneer artificial intelligence research companies to make agreements with governments and employee representations about the fair distribution of future profits: to compensate the hundreds of millions of victims of the war of artificial and natural intelligence.

Péter Zentai: There is a spreading fear in the developed Western world that robotization will result in unprecedented unemployment level hence causing social problems. The reality, however, shows an entirely different picture: labour shortage is significant in leading countries – something we face in Hungary too. Shall we train blue- or white-collar workers?
Jonathan Ruane:
The most common fear in the developed world is that finding a job will be extremely difficult in the near future. In these countries, it has become almost a trend the labour market is flooded with low-paying positions and only a few, which offer exceptionally high salaries. Soon, only these two extremes will exist, and automatization and robotization are behind this.
The majority of experts believe, if an employee or an early-stage job-seeker wants to avoid or break out of in-work poverty, it is only possible by acquiring higher education. The higher one’s education, the more valuable and efficient he or she can be – be it a blue-collar or white-collar job.
I know that Hungary, just like other European countries, people are most worried about the number of unemployed young and in-work poverty. All I can recommend to decision makers to ease this problem is to support the higher education of youth and encourage a competition where the primary interest of companies will be hiring the youth with higher education. This is the key if a country wants to take the lead in the international competition. I believe the phrase of our age should be to learn until the end of our lives, to make ourselves able to adapt – even in our old age – to newer and newer challenges.

What is the biggest challenge for the developed world: labour shortage or automatization gaining ground so fast?
The biggest problem in the United States is that there are only a few well-paying jobs. True, there are less unemployed, but the income of the millions without higher education has been the same for decades. The labour market simply cannot function in towns and regions, where traditionally only one or two employers or fields were dominating. Unemployment is significant in such places, and social tensions are rising. Automatization, moving production abroad, and energy transition destroyed traditional jobs, which were taken by young men mainly, in car manufacturing, mines, and steel industry. At the same time, in many American towns, emerging companies suffer from labour shortage. There is a huge demand for people with higher education, but there isn’t enough.
This is why many American economists and I say that we shall invest in training and education!

Do you think we have come really close to the economic and technological era, where artificial intelligence will be dominant? If so, which are those consequences that we know we will have to face?
If by artificial intelligence you mean that networks of smart machines and software take the place of humans in numerous fields, then artificial intelligence has already spread over every aspect of our life. The expansion of AI is strongly connected to economic and technological trends, such as cloud computing, the internet, automatizing commercial and capital market processes, and transferring different manufacturing stages farther away.
In the near future, however, intelligent machines will still fulfil certain tasks only and not dominate entire fields. Robots do take monotone, predictable and repetitive jobs from people; however, they cannot replace human creativity – yet.
The appearance of self-driving cars could potentially reshape the structure of labour market, but I believe, the total automatization and entrusting AI of traffic will come far later than some predict. I would recommend Hungary investing in this field since it could be exceptionally profiting in the long term.

The advancement of artificial intelligence is an unstoppable process and it leads to the broadening of the wage gap. The typical labour market of the future will only employ either very highly skilled workers or people who can conduct simple tasks. Smart machines by their ‘self-improvement’ will end the middle class. I even risk that social revolutions might break out to stop ‘AI revolution’…
Surely, the process poses a serious threat. It has been known in the United States, that while the salaries of employees who work at technological companies that contribute to the development and spreading of AI has skyrocketed, the income of the rest of the people has not changed for years. Not to mention that those rich people, who were capable of investing in this field will make further profits from the advancement of AI. At the same time, people – or even entire economic fields – whose jobs were eliminated by AI could suffer serious losses and injustice. This phenomenon will test the efficiency of economic, social and democratic institutions.
Governments, states, different employee representations, and companies in interest sooner or later will have to find a solution to fairly distribute profits from the dominance of artificial intelligence. However, they will also have to keep in mind that interventions to protect social stability shall not hold back the advance of AI because, all in all, it will make the world a better place.