IBM CEO Arvind Krishna points to declining populations to calm fears about A.I. taking jobs

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna is soothing nerves about artificial intelligence stealing jobs by pointing to declining working-age populations.

Given the declines—seen in developing economies around the world—having people do routine tasks that A.I. could do is “not an option,” he said. “We are going to need technology to do some of the mundane work so that people can do higher-value work.” He added that ultimately “there is going to be job creation” with A.I., as jobs will also be added in areas with more value creation.

His remarks, made in a Nikkei interview published on Saturday, resemble ones offered this week by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who spoke at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council Summit in London on Wednesday.

“Here are the facts,” Schmidt said. “We are not having enough children…all the demographics say there’s going to be a shortage of humans for jobs. Literally too many jobs and not enough people for at least the next 30 years.”

Jobs lost to A.I.

Schmidt argued that while job losses in the near term might be inevitable, A.I. will have an overall positive impact because of enhanced efficiency and its ability to replace professions already getting harder to fill in shrinking labor markets.

Goldman Sachs estimated in March that while A.I. might lead to new jobs and a productivity boom, it could soon replace the equivalent of 300 million jobs in the U.S. and Europe.

If A.I. does ultimately help society in the long term while creating hardship for many in the nearer term, it wouldn’t be a first for technological innovation.

MIT economics professor Daron Acemoglu told the Financial Times this week that while the Industrial Revolution did lead to progress, “you also had costs that were huge and very long-lasting. A hundred years of much harsher conditions for working people, lower real wages, much worse health and living conditions, less autonomy, greater hierarchy.”

With A.I. threatening many white-collar jobs today, he believes the U.S. needs a strong labor relations movement. “We need to create an environment in which workers have a voice,” he said, suggesting something more like Germany’s system—where the public and private sectors and labor work together—than America’s more contentious company-by-company approach.

A few months ago, Acemoglu joined Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak in signing an open letter calling for a pause on A.I. tools more powerful than OpenAI’s GPT-4. The letter read in part:

Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? Should we risk loss of control of our civilization? Such decisions must not be delegated to unelected tech leaders. Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable.” 

Meanwhile OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, on a tour meeting with European leaders, said Friday: “This idea that A.I. is going to progress to a point where humans don’t have any work to do or don’t have any purpose has never resonated with me.” 

“Power will shift”

Then again, in March 2021—before most people were aware of OpenAI or ChatGPT—Altman wrote in a lengthy blog post:

“My work at OpenAI reminds me every day about the magnitude of the socioeconomic change that is coming sooner than most people believe. Software that can think and learn will do more and more of the work that people now do. Even more power will shift from labor to capital. If public policy doesn’t adapt accordingly, most people will end up worse off than they are today.”

In 2019, Altman cofounded Worldcoin, a crypto startup involving eyeball scans for identification. If A.I. takes too many jobs and governments decide that a universal basic income is needed, Worldcoin wants to be the distribution mechanism for those payments. For now it’s aiming to be the way people prove they are actual humans and not A.I. bots online. The company announced a $115 million Series C funding round this week.

Krishna recently said that IBM would slow or suspend hiring in non-customer-facing roles that currently amount to about 26,000 workers. He added, “I could easily see 30% of that getting replaced by A.I. and automation over a five-year period.”

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