Viewpoint: AI may not steal every job, but it will disrupt employment

While longstanding fears that robots would one day make human workers obsolete have largely been put to rest — the guiding principle is that artificial intelligence will enhance, rather than replace, us — automation is still on track to radically change the workplace.

In an article for The New York Times, David Deming, PhD, director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Cambridge, Mass.-based Harvard Kennedy School, suggested that labor laws be adapted to account for the AI-powered transformation of American employment.

For example, though e-commerce is currently boosting the need for light-truck and delivery-service drivers, Dr. Deming notes, driverless cars will eventually make full-time driving jobs largely obsolete, leaving former employees to turn instead to one-off gig jobs, delivering packages for Amazon or food for GrubHub.

"As the gig economy grows, so does the need to modernize labor laws," Dr. Deming wrote. "AI technology allows companies to monitor and control workers, while still maintaining a formal arms-length relationship that skirts federal employment status guidelines. The result is a legal gray area."

Just as labor laws had to be rewritten in the 20th century in response to factory workers' demands for increased safety and higher pay, "we need a similar strengthening of the social contract to manage the changing nature of work in the digital age," according to Dr. Deming.

He concluded, "We need to accept that we cannot stop the coming wave of technological change. But we can moderate its impact on society. We should act with purpose, embracing AI as a tool that will enable us to create a better and fairer world."

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