Society’s refusal to have enough babies is what will save it from the existential threat of AI, says Eric Schmidt
Proponents of tighter regulation of AI have a long list of concerns and potential dangers to back up their argument, from near-term threats like the spread of credible misinformation to far more existential risks of superintelligent AI taking over. humanity (or “becomes the Terminator, in the words of Elon Musk). A more medium-term fear is that AI will be one of the biggest job disruptors in recent history, and Goldman Sachs calculated in March that the technology could soon replace the equivalent of 300 million jobs in the US and Europe But the danger of losing our jobs to AI could be undermined by another existential risk afflicting society, says former CEO and CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt: The rapidly declining birth rate of the developed world.
“Here are the facts. We’re not having enough kids, and we haven’t had enough kids for long enough that there’s a demographic crisis where younger generations are going to take care of people my age,” Schmidt said at the Wall Street Journal‘s CEO Council Summit in London on Wednesday.
Schmidt rejected the “narrative” that new technologies will inevitably cause disruption and lead to widespread job losses, saying that when it comes to AI, the net benefit will likely be positive due to increased efficiency and the technology’s ability to replace Professions. that are already increasingly difficult to fill in a shrinking job market.
In the US, a historically tight job market could become even tighter in the coming decades as a result of fewer children being born. In addition to a pandemic-induced “baby bump” in 2021, US fertility rates (the number of children each woman is expected to have in her lifetime) have mostly declined steadily since the middle of the 2000s, including a record. 4% drop in 2020.
Couples’ worries about their finances, crushing student loan and credit card debt, and an increased focus on career are some of the reasons Americans are having fewer children (another is that in more developed countries, the birth rate seems to be lower just by choice alone). Similar changes are taking place in the developed economies of Europe and East Asia, but the trend could have serious economic consequences for years to come. With baby boomers retiring in greater numbers each year, the shortage of young people to replace an aging workforce could lead to a demographic and jobs crisis for decades to come.
“Taken together, all the demographics say there will be a shortage of humans for the jobs. Literally too many jobs and too few people for at least the next 30 years,” Schmidt said.
Countries have proposed a series of policies to avoid the worst effects of a demographic crisis. China recently announced sweeping measures and incentives to reverse its population decline, including improving maternal health care services, granting 30 days of paid marriage leave in some provinces and even discouraging abortions. Many countries are also looking for workers abroad, such as Japan, historically opposed to mixing its workforce with too many foreign staff, which in recent years has eased its entry requirements.
In the US, the population grew last year after nearly stagnating in 2021, largely due to increased immigration. Several business leaders, including current Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, who was born in India, have long argued that the US should welcome more immigrants to fill out its job ranks.
AI could also have a crucial role to play in the struggles of the country’s workforce, especially for jobs that workers were already walking away from during the Great Quit of the early pandemic due to burnout and unsafe working conditions. History shows that technology tends to automatically fill the gaps created by a shortage of workers. A 2021 MIT study found that aging accounted for 35% of robot and automation adoption in different countries. The authors also argued that rapidly aging countries that also invested heavily in their robotics industries, such as Germany, South Korea, and Japan, were seeing better job market outcomes than the US.
Companies began harnessing artificial intelligence and automation technology years ago for jobs like truck driving and bartending, professions many workers voluntarily walked away from during the pandemic. However, the recent pace of AI growth threatens to be much more immediate and widespread, as a March study by ChatGPT creator OpenAI found that 80% of US workers could have at least 10% of their jobs affected by AI. it was one of the reasons OpenAI CEO Sam Altman urged Congress to regulate AI during testimony from him earlier this month.
Schmidt argued that AI would eventually become a tool for workforce efficiencies, but while it may end up as a net benefit to the workforce, short-term job losses could be inevitable.
“What really happens is that people like you, in the business community and so on, care about efficiency. Ultimately, there will be a lot of labor conflagration, right? Some jobs are created, some jobs are lost.”