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Research Briefs | December 17, 2020

Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Work

Thomas Malone, Daniela Rus, Robert Laubacher


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Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the most important technologies in the world today. The United States and China compete for dominance in its development (Lee, 2018). CEOs believe it will significantly change the way they do business (Rao et al., 2019). And it has helped companies such as Facebook, Google, and Apple to become among the largest in the world.

But how will this technology affect work in the future? Will it lead to a permanent underclass of people who are no longer employable because their jobs are being done by computers? Will superintelligent computers someday take over the world, finding little use for the humans who created them? Or will robotic servants usher in a golden age of human leisure and prosperity?

In this report, we conclude that recent fears about AI leading to mass unemployment are unlikely to be realized. Instead, we believe that—like all previous labor-saving technologies—AI will enable new industries to emerge, creating more new jobs than are lost to the technology. But we see a significant need for governments and other parts of society to help smooth this transition, especially for the individuals whose old jobs are disrupted and who cannot easily find new ones.

In addition, even though AI is advancing rapidly, we believe that we are at least many decades away from the day when computers have complete, human-level artificial intelligence. For the foreseeable future, therefore, the most promising uses of AI will not involve computers replacing people, but rather, people and computers working together—as “superminds”—to do both cognitive and physical tasks that could not be done before.