A future where AI has eliminated the need for all forms of work is one where AI has become self-aware — where AI software can not only take on the task it was designed for, but can also design AI to undertake new tasks, and operate and maintain itself.
Rahul Menon, Associate Professor, Jindal School of Government and Public Policy, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana, India.
At the recently concluded Bletchley Park summit on Artificial Intelligence (AI), in an interview with the U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, billionaire Elon Musk highlighted the disruptive potential of AI. Mr. Musk conceived of a future where AI would substitute for all human labour — both physical and cognitive — and hence individuals would face no pressing need for a job, but would only seek work for personal fulfilment.
While AI may substitute for certain jobs, it generates new jobs in turn, for instance AI programmers. A future where AI has eliminated the need for all forms of work is one where AI has become self-aware — where AI software can not only take on the task it was designed for, but can also design AI to undertake new tasks, and operate and maintain itself. Such a future may be theoretically possible, but practically improbable.
The need for work
A world without work may not be probable, but is it desirable? The history of economic thought reveals different ways in which a human’s relation with work has been theorised. Here one looks at two thinkers with diametrically opposite views on the nature of work — John Maynard Keynes and Karl Marx. Keynes was a liberal thinker who extolled capitalism but wished to save it from its worst excesses. He believed that at its heart, work represented a form of drudgery, and a world in which the hours of work could be reduced was one that unequivocally increased welfare. Keynes theorised that technological change under capitalism would eventually lead to a reduction of working hours. Mr. Musk’s comments can be seen as an extension of Keynes’ thinking, where improvements in technological change, if taken to its theoretical extreme, could eliminate the need for work altogether, representing an unambiguous positive outcome.
Published in: The Hindu
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