The idea that AI will just augment jobs never replace them

80 points18
visarga17 hours ago

The idea that demand for work remains constant is also bad. Work is not a zero sum game, it expands depending on capability and needs. Ultimately our desires are impossible to satisfy because we always want more than we have.

Let's take software development as an example - in 70 years of coding we have automated many things, we have plenty of libraries and languages at our fingertips. And yet we have more devs than ever, how can that be? Computers were five orders of magnitude slower 3-4 decades ago. Where did that power go into? We can clearly do today everything we did back then with less people. In reality we invented databases, applications, internet, and cloud computing, and now we have more work than ever.

Another example - in ML we suddenly got to a point where almost everything we did pre-2020 is now trivial. Why are we hiring even more devs to do NLP tasks? Our old skills suddenly became outdated, we had to learn a new paradigm, and here we are, with lots of work. Even labeling is seeing a surge - you'd think we don't need it anymore since LLMs are so smart, but in reality we need even more benchmarks and tests now that shit got serious.

Same for medicine and other fields - they all seen massive improvements and yet humans work just as hard.

marcosdumay16 hours ago

Jevons paradox happen all the time, except for when it doesn't.

People have some simplistic view where society always respond the same way to the same inputs. It's patently false, but well, the complex real world has no place on people's mind.

This phrase:

> Ultimately our desires are impossible to satisfy because we always want more than we have.

Is visibly false nowadays. A lot of people have been happy with what they have since the last century. Yet, an entire science keeps it as a fundamental.

visarga15 hours ago

People would "want" more things if they were possible. "We couldn't even dream of it, but now we have it." AI will embolden our desires.

Jensson14 hours ago

> A lot of people have been happy with what they have since the last century. Yet, an entire science keeps it as a fundamental.

The context here is whether they would spend more if they could, and in that context very few are happy with what they got since they eagerly work hard to get more money so they can spend more money.

aiisdoomed13 hours ago

> A lot of people have been happy with what they have since the last century.

I dont see many folks riding horses or using the telegraph these days, perhaps you do?

tourmalinetaco6 hours ago

Do Amish count?

alismayilov17 hours ago

But at some point, there is and there will be saturation.

visarga15 hours ago

Desire is not a zero sum game. We can have more desires if they got a chance of being fulfilled.

csours18 hours ago

Core Arguments:

> "Six separate impacts

In truth, AI technology will have several impacts:

1. Augmentation: AI will certainly augment certain existing jobs.

2. Job losses for non-adoption: new hires will be expected to use this augmenting AI, some who can’t adopt and adapt will lose their jobs.

3. Gradual jobs losses: new hires will diminish as productivity gains are realised: why have 5 when you only need three admin staff using AI to do the same tasks?

4. Jobs will be automated: some jobs will be automated and eliminated using AI. This has already happened with translators (Duolingo) and there are lot more candidates.

5. Legacy companies will disappear: traditional companies will fail to adapt and large numbers will lose their jobs.

6. New jobs will be created: new companies will emerge, as they did with online learning, with AI experts and knowledge managers. This is already happening."


Is anyone making a good faith argument that AI will "JUST" augment jobs? Do grown ups take the word "JUST" seriously anymore?

Terrible title.

bognition18 hours ago

Think back a few hundred years when tools were all made by hand. As the Industrial Revolution kicked off it would have been easy to say, we'll you can do simple things like weave with machines but you'll never be able to build a machine that can do something complicated like build a [insert complicated tool name].

Fast forward to today where we've got the Tesla Gigafactory and you can see how far manufacturing automation has come.

Not only is it rare to find tools that are made by hand today, but most of the highest quality tools are made by machines!

Even if you argue that building tools by hand is better for the people no major economy in the world is going to go back to a less efficient and more costly model.

The Pandora's box of AI has been opened and the world is evolving. Yes jobs will be lost and yes we wont be able to predict how far this will go.

rco878617 hours ago

All of those examples are still just repeatable processes. The machines aren't making decisions independently and then executing complex tasks based on their judgment.

Not saying we'll never get there with AI...but it's a fundamentally different problem space.

bognition17 hours ago

A huge percentage of the software that is getting built today is little more than a CRUD app with some sort of domain specific data model.

sublinear17 hours ago

Yes, but app maintenance and integration is what has always kept devs employed.

Anyone can arbitrarily define what a v1.0.0 release looks like. It doesn't mean anything of value was really created, nor can we cut humans out when requirements need to be added.

rco878615 hours ago

Tbh I completely disagree with this statement.

Even extremely simple CRUD has unique data modeling, validation, storage and scaling, deployment, UI/UX concerns, etc

A very, very small percentage of software falls into the category of “simple form on top of a database table”. And even when it does, it doesn’t tend to stay that simple unless it’s just kinda not that valuable anyway.

og_kalu5 hours ago

LLMs can make decisions independently and execute tasks based on their judgment. I'm not putting a GPT-4 agent in charge of much of course, but that’s a competency problem, not a problem space one. 4 is a much more competent agent than 3.5. Presumably, 5 will be another jump from 4. You can't have these competency improvements and expect humans to always be necessary. And "just so competent, a human is needed" sounds like a real tangible line but is actually entirely arbitrary and no harder than any other line to cross.

pixl9718 hours ago

The question of the future isn't about what jobs will be around, or what AI will be able to do.

It is if the greedy will attempt to horde the gains from the technology and set forth a path of world war and destruction in doing so.

yndoendo16 hours ago

Greed is there already.

American Solutions for Business has an infrastructure for sales agents to use customer service representatives from Asia built into the business. Can either A) do it yourself, B) find someone locally and hire them, C) only written communication goes through Singapore and doe A or B for phone communication, D) completely out source written and verbal communication. Why spend ($$$) locally when one can out source through a company wide built solution and pay ($) and keep ($$) in your pocket? This one big business out of many.

Former company I helped create was bought by Texas VCs. Moved manufacturing from local state, not Texas, and city to South Korea. Moved all customer service from local to Singapore. Because they want to make ($$$) in at least (5) years and try to find any method to save ($).

Would argue that a country with a living wage economic infrastructure and design would be an indication we are pulling away from greed. Right now America is more investing in supporting greed than limiting or balancing it. Assuming this will create a long term economic bubble that will slowly stagnate the stock market as more become less wealthy and people cannot spend like they had in the past via limiting economic flow.

snapplebobapple17 hours ago

It won't be much of a war if one side has fully automated factories pump*ng out drone armies... it is also the wrong idea entirely. The greeedy have always attempted to horde all the benefit for themselves, it is what motivates them to make new awesome things. The first big innovation in this space was unchaining that greed by giving individuals much greater rights. The second big innovation was antitruat law, breaking up market power abusers so that greedy startups can compete effectively and take market share. It is this second innovation that is failing right now and will have failed if all the benefits of automation accrue to capital rather than being competed away lowering prices and sending benefit to the consumer. Greed has and will c(ntinue to work as advertised,

nonrandomstring17 hours ago

One must not confuse wars with revolutions.

snapplebobapple12 hours ago

That's pretty irrelevant when there is no longer any value in your opponent. Human psychology has this horrid but effective ability to out group vasts swaths of people and do horrible things to them up to and including genocide with little negative psychological impact on the perpetrator. What kept things in line in previous wars and revolutions is the cost to you in lives of fighting (vastly lowered by drone armies) and the pontential future benefit of having the people you are fighting with as customers/subjects/slaves. What's the benefit incentivizing you to minimize loss of life for your opponent when you don't need a labor force? It's also still a true response to an irrelevant frame of thought of the op comment. Greed still isn't the problem, the problem is still the government failing to mitigate market power abuse via company breakup/regulation. The above is just the likely outcome of a hypothetical that isn't relevant.

blooalien14 hours ago

One also must not confuse "horde" with "hoard".

btbuildem17 hours ago

That's not a question; it's guaranteed that they will. They always have, consistently, done so.

pixl9717 hours ago

I guess the question is, how much of the world will burn because of it.

squigz16 hours ago
electrondood16 hours ago

This is my criticism of the position that AI and the coming labor automation revolution will yield an "age of abundance" where goods are so insanely cheap that anyone can have anything:

Have you ever known a company to reverse shrinkflation, or return profits to consumers, rather than to shareholders?

I worry that this is another bit of feel-good garbage like "wealth will trickle down when we cut taxes for the wealthy." It's completely contrary to human behavior.

shermantanktop17 hours ago

Based on the defect rate coming out of that Tesla Gigafactory, we humans still have some runway. But it’s merely a matter of time.

Improved precision, driven by AI, is likely to squeeze even more costs out of overbuilt consumer products. The phenomenon of an appliance that dies 3 months after the warranty expires will become more and more common.

michaelbuckbee17 hours ago

A far more recent and relevant example is that of secretarial and typing pools in offices.

Pre personal computers, this was a viable career: taking notes in meetings, typing up and sending letters, dictation, filing, etc. functions that, for 99% of folks they just do themselves.

edgyquant17 hours ago

Yet people still have to work for a living, which is the point

bognition17 hours ago

Perhaps, we currently have double the productivity of several decades ago and yet people are working more not less.

Its not universally true that we "have" to work to survive. There are alternate ways to structure a society so that everyone gets what they need to survive and people have more free time to invest in relationships, art, self expression, etc...

The current system is not setup to permit that kind of personalization, instead its setup to exploit workers as much as possible. The explosion of AI is just the next step in the cycle.

Eventually someone will build a fully autonomous humanoid robot that is capable of doing most of the manual tasks that humans are paid for. Those robots will be cheaper than paying someone a living wage and as such those jobs will be lost.

What happens to those people when this happens?

sublinear17 hours ago

> Fast forward to today where we've got the Tesla Gigafactory and you can see how far manufacturing automation has come.

Fast forward to today where we don't have the equivalent of the Tesla Gigafactory for software dev or any business operations at all.

ru55217 hours ago

I'd argue that jobs wont be lost so much as change, just like all the previous technological jumps. You had an entire industry to cater to horse travel until cars came along. Then you needed an entire industry to cater to cars and their maintenance.

dheera17 hours ago

I actually hope certain jobs will be lost: Anything that involves physical, biological, chemical danger, or unhealthy work habits (e.g. night/weekend on-call). These kinds of jobs shouldn't exist, if possible.

binarymax17 hours ago

Best practice is to talk about net job loss, or net job creation. "Augmenting" or "Replacing" jobs doesn't mean anything. Technology has been "replacing" jobs for hundreds of years, that's the nature of societal growth and change.

For instance, see Page 25 of this report which cites 25% net job creation through 2027 attributed to AI:

ravenstine17 hours ago

I think we can already see AI replacing junior developers. GPT-4 alone does good enough at scaffolding out semi-working code that I do think there's far less of a need for seniors to hand off tedium to juniors. This might be a partial explanation for why there seems to be significantly fewer junior developer openings today than there were a decade ago. People are going to split hairs over whether LLMs are actually AI, but the end result is all that matters. LLMs will continue to improve, especially on the code front, raising the minimal skill level just to get in to the field of programming as a human. It's already no longer enough to simply be able to build websites or mobile apps, and there will come a point soon where it will be challenging to compete against no-code/low-code platforms that use AI to tie all the pieces together or create customs at ease.

People love to cite prior automations, but the automobile only made hostlers obsolete because it required different skills to work on. AI fundamentally exists to replace skill itself. We might not be totally there yet to where it's a massive threat to wealth, but the potential is there in a way that was simply never the case with grain mills, the cotton gin, the printing press, conveyor belts, automobiles, and so forth.

thimp17 hours ago

I think this problem is a symptom of another problem though. I mean the fact we have to scaffold stuff out like that suggests our programming languages are shitty, wasteful and lack sufficient abstraction over common problems.

If we're paving that with junior developers or AI then we need to push the problem up the stack a bit more.

Example the other day. It took me 30 minutes to work out how to read a damn CSV in Go. Yeah I can ask ChatGPT to do it to me, but why the hell is it so damn unintuitive getting to there. Today I want to plot geographic data in R. This is also a hill to climb.

The instructions are simple. Our abstractions are just crappy and ChatGPT is just a shit crutch over a crock.

ravenstine17 hours ago

Yes, I agree that most of our tools that we've been using are actually very poor, and that's a polite understatement. As the great Jonathan Blow has pointed out, it takes far more effort today to accomplish something that would have taken a few hours (if that) back in a high school programming class decades ago. I think this is an indication of failure in our toolchains, which seem to evolve at unreasonably rapid paces, yet don't seem to actually make us any more efficient as programmers; at best, they cover up the inefficiencies in other tools.

notTooFarGone17 hours ago

csv.NewReader(f).ReadAll() takes 2 seconds in your favorite browser.

you can add arguments for other seperators and iterate over it like everything else.

I think go is a very bad example of "wasteful and lack sufficient abstraction over common problems". It's first and foremost easy and therefore a bit verbose. If you mean "wasteful" by LOC then I'm sorry about that but that's not its purpose.

thimp16 hours ago

That's only part of the problem that needs to be solved. I have to read the CSV off the network and parse each field out.

In a better language for the task, which I can't choose.

   > t <- read_csv('')
   > glimpse(t)
   Rows: 100
   Columns: 9
   $ Index           <dbl> 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16,…
   $ `User Id`       <chr> "88F7B33d2bcf9f5", "f90cD3E76f1A9b9", "DbeAb8CcdfeFC2c…
   $ `First Name`    <chr> "Shelby", "Phillip", "Kristine", "Yesenia", "Lori", "E…
   $ `Last Name`     <chr> "Terrell", "Summers", "Travis", "Martinez", "Todd", "D…
   $ Sex             <chr> "Male", "Female", "Male", "Male", "Male", "Male", "Fem…
   $ Email           <chr> "", "", "btho…
   $ Phone           <chr> "001-084-906-7849x73518", "214.112.6044x4913", "277.60…
   $ `Date of birth` <date> 1945-10-26, 1910-03-24, 1992-07-02, 2017-08-03, 1938-…
   $ `Job Title`     <chr> "Games developer", "Phytotherapist", "Homeopath", "Mar…
So I'm forced to use a crutch, which is writing a lot of boilerplate.
viscanti17 hours ago

> I think we can already see AI replacing junior developers.

Even if this is the only effect we see, it still has pretty major consequences for the future. How would one become a senior developer in the future if there are almost no opportunities for junior developers?

bonton8917 hours ago

It will be like COBOL programmers now. We'll pay a lot of money for the graying experts in emergencies and declare non-AI advanced development obsolete. Eventually there will be no senior developers either.

ravenstine17 hours ago

What compounds this issue is that most of the graybeards don't actually get paid that much money to come out of retirement to fix code for mainframes, and the incentive simply isn't there for new programmers to learn COBOL and mainframes. It's not even enough to learn COBOL and mainframes because the graybeards are getting paid not just for those skills but familiarity with the quirks of particular systems. Financial institutions want COBOL programmers with experience working on financial systems. There's no way anyone born in my generation can even get started in that realm; not without training or mentorship, which firms seem completely uninterested in providing.

The question is what happens when all the graybeards are dead. Are the institutions that are refusing to replace their systems banking on future AI being able to solve all their problems single-handedly? Or are they going to offer a pittance to any one who chooses to learn COBOL? Maybe it will be something in the middle; they will only hire senior engineers with specialties in developing AI/ML models for legacy systems. That is until those seniors become obsolete by their own creations.

medvezhenok14 hours ago

No, the solution that will be implemented is likely to be write-from-scratch.

Ultimately, you can start a new bank with new technology, move clients money to new technology, have the old bank go belly-up and bankrupt. Sometimes that happens in a new company, sometimes it happens in the same company (i.e. re-writes).

Maybe not so extreme, but I think that's likely what will happen over time. Maintaining old software is a choice, and is sometime more expensive than it's worth (depending on what that software does).

It can certainly be very painful in certain cases (the Great Depression was a similar "reset" for the financial system as a whole - though without code involved), but the market mechanism will accomplish the objective, though likely not without collateral damage.

TrackerFF17 hours ago

They don't.

They will go the way of the typists.

lp4vn17 hours ago

>I do think there's far less of a need for seniors to hand off tedium to juniors.

I think that that's something that has been happening now for a long time, at least for the last 20 years.

In the beginning of 2000 if you wanted to have a streaming for your website, you'd have to pay your nose to an apache specialist tune your server so that it would be able to survive the load of streaming to a few hudrend of people. Today you just put your stuff on youtube and it's over.

More than twenty years ago I once met a "HTML developer". As I read here on hnews: nobody is interested in that kind of productivity anymore. People still have problems with HTML and CSS, but nobody is hiring someone only for that. Today you have to know both HTML and CSS among a ton of other things.

It's not this need for heightened productivity that scares me though, what really scares me is that a much, much more productive developer of today probably earns the same thing or even less than a much less productive developer from the past. The productivity gains were all collected by corporations and the capital, the workers got only stagnating wages and increasingly high pressure and scope of work.

So it's not only me who has this bad feeling. Workers and common people know that all the gains from AI are not going to stay with the working class. In the past, automation in the public discourse was associated with a richer society where people would have to work less and would have more time to leisure, now even the rocks know that this won't be the case. Companies will use AI to decrease salaries and increase even more their already immense leverage over the rest of the population.

james_marks17 hours ago


jncfhnb18 hours ago

I don’t think this is particularly controversial. Augmenting work means you need fewer workers and cheaper workers. “Replace” is just semantics.

remoquete17 hours ago

Technical writing is one of those jobs where it's tempting to think that AI will indeed take humans' jobs. But only a company that has gone bananas would do that. All it takes is understanding that the deliverable is not the job; there's so much more to it. I wrote about it here for my fellow writers:

TrueGeek17 hours ago

> only a company that has gone bananas would do that.

There are plenty of companies that have, indeed, gone bananas.

There was a story on HN last year about a tech writer who lost their lost job and was being replaced by ChatGPT. They argued to their boss "but I'm 10x as good as ChatGPT, you aren't going to get writing nearly as good once I'm gone!" The boss replied "I know you're 10x as good but you're 10,000x as expensive. The company is okay with the drop in quality."

remoquete17 hours ago

That's sadly true. But it's also a race to the bottom.

medvezhenok13 hours ago

Which is exactly what happened in industries such as textiles, appliance production etc. The garments made 100 years ago were higher quality than the ones made today, but significantly more expensive. No reason to think that coding (or writing) will be immune to these pressures.

cat_plus_plus17 hours ago

Job is something about you that others find valuable enough to pay for. So for AI to replace jobs we have to like it enough to spend our lives in separate holodecks, assuming human reproduction and young child care are somehow taken care of or we don't mind going extinct in a generation.

Seems far fetched, and also from a utilitarian point of view some will say it's Ok as long as everyone is really happy. But in every other scenario, there will be jobs. They just may not look like jobs we are used to now or require same training as required now. They may be jobs that people enjoy doing, or that people enjoy being done by people for whatever the reason. Someone who lived centuries ago would not recognize our jobs as jobs either. And maybe if someone wants to just sit in a holodeck and be fed, we will take care of it for them for the sake of global peace and quiet. For example, let criminals do whatever they want in VR, including commit crimes, cheaper than the rest of us suffering crime IRL.

kjkjadksj17 hours ago

Despite all the advances in technology and alleged productivity gains over the last century, people still somehow have to work 40 hour weeks. Stands to reason that using machine learning isn’t going to change the course of what is ultimately a deep rooted culture based on working these long hours on projects that aren’t your own.

debacle18 hours ago

The thing about AI is that software replaced people piecemeal. The report that took 1 person 2 weeks to generate now is a 20 minute batch job, but that report was run quarterly and was only 1 position. There is plenty more work to do.

We've already automated much of what is there to automate, most of our "bullshit" jobs are human communication or human reasoning. Once you fully automate 1 CSR or 1 compliance officer in an industry, you've effectively automated a large percentage of them. Instead of seeing a gradual displacement of labor, you're going to see large chunks of people become completely irrelevant. We're seeing this in the gaming industry now, where a huge focus is on AI art, aiding in (but not solely responsible for) mass layoffs.

I don't know if AI will eliminate more jobs than AS/400s did, but it will be a much more disruptive transition.

mechagodzilla15 hours ago

I would look at this somewhat differently - I think very 'narrow' jobs (with lots of people doing the same, very specific job) were previously more common. Think of the rooms of people replaced by 'mail-merge', for instance. For jobs that involve lots of disparate activities and responsibilities, it is difficult to 'automate' the job because it consists of many different jobs, none of which fully occupy a human. That type of work resists expensive solutions, since automating 1/16 of someone's job is just a slight productivity boost, but not necessarily much of a savings to the company, and you might need to develop 16 separate solutions with varying levels of reliability and effort. If a 'department' is only a handful of people, reducing the number of people has negative impacts on reliability and sustainability for the company - how vulnerable is your company now if you only have 1 compliance officer, and they leave / get sick / whatever? There will definitely be some jobs that get eliminated by this type of technology just the way mail-merge eliminated lots of workers (or a zillion other examples in the last 200 years), but it's not obvious to me it will even increase productivity enough to deal with the worsening demographics hitting pretty much every developed country these days.

lelag17 hours ago

I think the examples given in the article actually are in favour of the idea that AI will not be a catastrophe. Most people don't want to spend their life doing gruesome work on a farm, most people don't want to spend their life turning the same screw in a factory. If you believe David Graeber, up to 50% of jobs are actually meaningless 'bullshit jobs'. If AI replaced those, would society be worse off ?

The real issue is that people need a job to make money to survive. What we need might not be to save jobs but rather to find new ways to redistribute wealth...

kjkjadksj17 hours ago

I am not convinced ai tools will replace those bullshit jobs, when every other piece of technology since has not obviated those jobs, perhaps has created more even. There must be some inherent value for keeping the working population occupied on these sorts of things during the day. No time or energy left after a work week to plan revolutions perhaps, or to harden oneself against consumerist propaganda, or read into what the actual verbiage of what public policy is saying.

lelag17 hours ago

I don't buy into the conspiracy theory that's all planned. In the end, any corporation is trying to make money, they employ people because they provide some value, even in bullshit positions.

The bullshit part of those jobs is that they don't bring much benefit to society as a whole and society would be better off if they were eliminated. Ex: if you made telemarketing totally illegal, you would prevent some companies to make lots of money and some people would loose their jobs, but society benefits.

jmull17 hours ago

> This idea that AI will not impact jobs is ridiculous.

Is that a very widespread idea? I haven't really seen it, though I guess I try not to hang out places on the internet where there's too much nonsense.

I mainly see people arguing about how AI will impact jobs. (I think it's pretty obvious that AI will augment jobs, replace jobs, and create jobs, so a better way to frame the discussion is how much of each we are going to have and how can we make it so we get an overall positive outcome rather than negative one.)

purplezooey17 hours ago

He punts on the timeframe, using examples that occurred over 60, 100, even 200 years. Thus, you could apply the argument to nearly anything.

fullshark18 hours ago

I've learned these firms and therefore their workers, who are hired to exert the firm's will, will rationalize anything and come up with any story as long as it steers them towards growth/market dominance. That is the dynamics of any and all attempts to monetize a new technology.

jesselawson18 hours ago

Like remote work vs physically proximate work in software engineering, I’m hopeful that people will remember the value of human cognition so much so that it’s considered, like it is today for some people in some cases, a competitive advantage.

manojlds18 hours ago

I guess that's a given right? AI will augment job for some and hence lead to reduction in total available jobs since the people who are augment are more productive. But will AI lead to net new jobs?

vondur16 hours ago

Are these job losses directly attributable to AI, or companies simply reducing headcount from the Covid hiring spree?

BirAdam17 hours ago

I think this all remains to be seen. Someone has to truly solve the bullshit/hallucination problem before AI systems are truly useful for a wide variety of tasks.

More importantly, however, I believe that people have some seriously dumb thoughts regarding economics. Every single thing in life has some economic value despite how much I hate knowing it. I weigh things like "free time" against things like "income" all the time, and I could therefore assign a numeric value to any given aspect in my life. I do not do this because I am not a psycho. On the other hand, knowing this, I can definitely say that someone out there will notice when the price of labor falls of a cliff and then that person will come up with a job that requires labor and wouldn't be economically feasible if global labor prices hadn't fallen. More importantly, machines are expensive. Running an LLM is extremely expensive. Making modern GPUs is also extremely expensive. You won't need too sharp a fall in labor costs for humans to continue to compete against the machines. But this leads to the true problem. These AI systems, if the hallucination problem is solved, and if the profit turns out to be good, will most likely serve to further entrench the current neo-feudalist world order as the working class become poorer and the lords become ever wealthier. The scenario where a UBI is needed is ridiculous though. Should no one come up with a use for cheap human labor, the folks running the LLMs would run out of money and be forced to close down, and the jobs that used to exist would return. Every product needs a purchaser.

Finally, despite all of the above, I still think that the AI systems are a step in the correct direction. Yes, the current LLMs and spin off technologies might (most likely will) further entrench neo-feudalism. Yes, many of us (maybe even me) will be relegated to cheap manual labor. Yes, we will likely have some crazy dystopia of "post truth" in a technologically advanced dark age (I think we are actually already in that one though). But, the automation of work is a net good. The article's charts didn't show longevity, didn't show free time hours, didn't show standard of living. Taking us off of the farms saved lives. Taking us out of factories saved lives. These two things together created the modern conception of childhood. All of this was a benefit. So, despite the shifting of the labor force, humankind will likely end up in a better position despite the negatives that every new technology will inevitably spring upon us.

hiAndrewQuinn18 hours ago

It's a lie which I'm frankly astonished so many people fall for. Put yourself in the shoes of the profit maximizing firm for once: Why would you pay dollars per hour for bespoke human cognition when store brand costs pennies of electricity and works [almost as well/just as well/even better]?

hef1989818 hours ago

Because AI is nowhere close to replace a large swath of jobs? Besides content spam authors? Because even in case of artists, the 100% AI generated stuff is crap compared to the AI-supported stuff.

ravenstine17 hours ago

I think you underestimate the willingness of the average American to consume slop. It really doesn't take much for an LLM to produce something good enough that millions of people would lie on their couch and zombify to it (while consuming ads). If AI were as crappy as you say, it wouldn't have been mentioned in the terms to end the recent writer's strike in Hollywood.

Nothing matters except the outcome. Let's say, hypothetically, that we invent something much closer to so-called "AGI" – I can guarantee you that many pundits and HN users will find reasons to believe it's not real and that it's crap or whatever. Why should anyone care? Plenty of people thought the Web was crap in the beginning, and now look at where we are. I don't see any reason to believe AI won't have some impact on jobs and the economy for the next decade. If it was total crap, no one would be using it, but all I know is tons of developers are using Copilot, and I'm using GPT-4 every single day. Are we all just spinning tops or is it actually being of some use to us?

bonton8917 hours ago

It doesn't even matter if it is slop and you don't want slop. A huge oversupply of slop creates a market for lemons scenario. It is so hard to find the good stuff most people stop even looking for it, assume it is all slop and adapt to that reality. And then non-slop isn't created at the same rate because they're can't get through the noise anymore.

M4v3R18 hours ago

> Because AI is nowhere close to replace a large swath of jobs?

It's nowhere close now. 10 years ago we were nowhere close to generative AI. How will the AI landscape look in the next 10-20 years? There's a non-zero chance that it will be ready by then to replace many jobs.

asadotzler8 hours ago

Who knows, because that'll take breakthroughs we don't have yet. Where we are now, however, probably cannot evolve much further, so this is kinda what you're gonna get from this period for AI probably for a while. Transformers plus all the web's content and a bit of chat UI and this is what you get from the 2010s breakthroughs. It's a pretty decent auto-complete service but not one that's likely to change the world in profound ways.

Recall that we've had many eras of AI, going back into the '70s with expert systems and back propagation that led to neural networks that got a lot of investment in the '80s along with early machine learning and advances in speech recognition and computer vision. The '90s work spent a lot on probabilistic and Bayesian methods, SVMs and Q-learning, then we got big data and deep learning, and don't forget Siri and Roomba to round out the 2000s era, the one that came before the current regime.

What the next breakthrough and investment era will bring, we cannot say. It may be a minor leap or a major one. We just don't know.

tnel7717 hours ago

While I am not terribly worried about the jobs over the next 3-5 years, I am worried about what the landscape will look like in 10-20 years. If the white collar jobs are getting wiped out and we lose a bunch of blue collar jobs like warehouse work and trucking, it’s going to be a real rough time for the economy.

criley218 hours ago

There's a "non-zero" chance all life on earth is eradicated in an extinction event like a gamma ray burst too. That phrase is just smarter sounding weasel words.

With regards to generative AI replacing jobs, it seems to me that AI is best at replacing jobs I have a layman's understanding of, and AI is no good at replacing jobs I have a professional understanding in.

For example, I am not a lawyer or doctor therefore it seems trivial to me that AI will replace much of what lawyers and doctors do. Both boil down to reading a libraries worth of information and then making sense of it right? Bam, easy for AI.

However, I'm a professional engineer and I know how extremely complex and difficult computer science is to get right, especially at scale, therefore I'll eat my hat if in 10 years you can write "Create a facebook clone that can support 500 million simultaneous users" and the AI does anything but hallucinate nonsense that won't work. (There's also the reality that there is far more to large scale software than what can be typed into a computer or repeated by an AI, but hey, details).

I'll also point out that 10 years is not so long. 10 years ago Elon Musk told us AI was replacing driving and taxis. 2015 that feature was launched. 10 years later... not so much.

anonylizard17 hours ago
coldtea18 hours ago

>Because AI is nowhere close to replace a large swath of jobs?

Is that a claim or a question?

In either case, doesn't matter, as long as it's close to replace a swath of jobs - even if it's not some particular "large swath" it can't replace yet (or ever).

Doesn't have to replace all jobs to have a negative job market impact. Just more than can be reclaimed with new ones.

stavros17 hours ago

The clear hypothesis in the question was "for jobs that AI can do just as well as a human".

themagician18 hours ago

It's closer than you realize for more jobs than you can imagine. Do you not realize just how many office jobs are simply repetitive tasks? Everywhere, for everything. Microsoft is working overtime to replace entire staffs with a new keyboard and a single prompt engineer.

People who really KNOW what they are doing will command a very high premium because they'll be needed to do things that can't be done via AI tools, but everyone else is kind of screwed. Being the best at what you do was always a good idea, but it's about to be a requirement.

debesyla17 hours ago

I am not sure if raising minimal requirements is a bad thing. For example, it is harder to get into medicine now than it was 100 years ago, but is it bad? Maybe AI revolution will simply raise education requirements and those will lead to "smarter"/more specialised humanity?

supertimor9 hours ago
pessimizer17 hours ago

AI is 10x closer than it was six months ago. It's a quickly moving field. And without actual improvements in quality, you'll assemble pipelines to gradually refine quality before shipping, and every step of that pipeline could be staffed by inadequate AI. Why wouldn't Fordism and Taylorism work when we have intellectual machines?

tnel7718 hours ago

I think most businesses will struggle to completely eliminate the need for humans. Surely AI will continue to drive efficiency for those who remain employed and others will find new jobs and/or start their own businesses.

That, or all the jobs go away and then no one has money resulting in a non-functioning economy :).

pixl9717 hours ago

'completely' is the word here that simply doesn't matter.

Lets say you need ditches dug and you need 100 people to do it. Lets say there's only 50 people that want to dig ditches. This is a market favorable to labor. Pay will increase and so will growth of technology.

But the moment the opposite happens the equation dramatically changes. If you have 50 jobs and 51 workers looking for jobs you can now get labor to fight with itself to see who will work for the least money.

>and others will find new jobs and/or start their own businesses.

Right, because there's going to be some magical market where AI isn't doing the same thing (maybe direct contact prostitution for a while?). And yea, lots of little businesses will pop up, and be very quickly ate up and consolidated by large businesses exploiting the interconnectedness of technology everywhere. The future doesn't look like the past in great number of ways because of this.

> then no one has money resulting in a non-functioning economy

This is a very serious risk. Typically this is why authoritarian states fall apart. And in the 'free west' we risk exactly the same with larger corporate consolidation effectively forming a quasi-authoritarian state via lack of competition, rent seeking behaviors, and semi-direct control of the government via lobbying.

malka17 hours ago

if all job go away, because they are replaced by AI, it means that

* there is no longer a need for a working class

* there is no longer a need for a consumer class

If there is neither a worker class, neither a consumer class, there is no longer a need for an economy

There are just rich people waging war using drones to control access to resources to fullfil their own need. Most people would become utterly irrelevant here.

rootusrootus18 hours ago

The most hopeful answer is 'because the competition will use AI to augment instead of replace, and produce a superior product.'

flanked-evergl18 hours ago

You say "put yourself in the shoes of the profit maximizing firm", do you expect governments to not optimize for cost, or other organizations should not optimize for cost?

coldtea18 hours ago

Yes, I expect companies and even more so, governments, to not optimize for cost.

I expect them to optimize for human wellbeing, a functional society, and a clean environment above cost, and then cost.

asadotzler8 hours ago

well said. thank you.

paulcole18 hours ago

Another good one that shocks me that people ignore is the long-term effect of remote work on salaries. If you can do your job from home, there's someone who can do it who has a cheaper home than you.

Roark6617 hours ago

This is no different than living in a city, going to work in person and renting cheapest, crappiest place of residence you can. You could say "There is always someone willing to tolerate shittier living conditions and undercut you" if your pay was based on your cost of living. But it's not. Your pay is based on the supply vs demand for the type of work you do. If it so happens the work you do is worth enough to support you living in a large city(and your sales skills good enough to take advantage of it) great. There is plenty of people who work in person and can't afford more than a room in a bedsit in a city. Imagine how much better their life can be if they can do their work remotely and they can rent a house "in the hicks" for the same money.

There will always be people willing to do your job for cheaper as well as these that take 3x what you take and do half. Such is life.

paulcole17 hours ago

> There will always be people willing to do your job for cheaper as well as these that take 3x what you take and do half. Such is life.

Which of these do you think is the bigger threat to you?

If they can do your job roughly as well as you for half the cost, what's the employer's incentive to keep you around to do it?

tnel7718 hours ago

I think it depends on how much salaries drop. Let’s say salaries drop 25%, but more people can live in places where homes cost 50% or less, it’s likely still a good deal for that remote employee. Remote work is making cities in the Midwest far more attractive.

htek18 hours ago

That's why strong unions are needed.

coldtea18 hours ago

>If you can do your job from home, there's someone who can do it who has a cheaper home than you.

Yes, but rent also falls in now highly coveted due to work availability areas, since people can increasingly live everywhere.

eweise18 hours ago

You might not have to worry about that. I'm seeing people being called back into the office at least part of the time.

jncfhnb18 hours ago

Good for them. But they have no local social network.

coldtea18 hours ago

Rather the opposite: those WHF can just live in a small city / community with 100x the "local social network", cohesion, friendliness, etc. than the ones living in some big city where they don't even know their immediate neighbors.

And of course if someone from e.g. India replaces you, I'm pretty sure they'll have a far greater "local social network" than whatever Silicon Valley can offer.

jncfhnb18 hours ago
Mistletoe18 hours ago

We even have ample evidence from history that this did not occur with other innovations. We don’t have a field of workers anymore, we have one guy in a tractor. We don’t have a factory of workers anymore, we have one guy watching the machines.

We won’t have a field of lawyers, radiologists, programmers anymore, we will have one guy watching the machines. You can tell yourself you’ll be that one guy, but statistically you won’t.

htek17 hours ago

How does that one guy in a tractor or that one guy watching the machines get paid when no one has a job to buy food, widgets, health care, et cetera? A sudden disruption like AI is purported to potentially cause is a recipe for total societal collapse.

Mistletoe17 hours ago

We’ve tried to kick the can down the road to a weird ponzi where we all do services for one another, but I don’t know how much longer that can go for. Now AI is going to disrupt that. We need to just stop sending all the money upwards and enjoy the benefits that mechanization and AI can bring. But I doubt that happens.

> In a short essay published in 1930, the world’s most important economist, John Maynard Keynes, predicted that within 100 years, most people would be working no more than 15 hours a week.

We did not get this future. We got a future where both husband and wife have to work 40+ hour weeks for the same lifestyle. He did not envision the siphoning off of wealth that would characterize the 20th and 21st century.

anonylizard17 hours ago

Its not a lie that people fall for.

Its a lie people want to believe.

Try telling people about the pace of AI advancement, scaling laws, how AI art managed to surpass 90% of human artists in 1 year. And it'll either result in visceral disgust, or complete indifference.

People do not care. Even if the flood has consumed the street, and is rising 1 meter per minute, they do not care. Unless the flood hits their front door, and wets their feet, they prefer to live their normal lives assuming everything tomorrow will be the same as today.

Hence all the AI messaging has become all about 'copilots', because that's the only message people want to listen to. There's plenty of extremely frank discussions by AI company CEOs, AI company staff, or even AI enthusiast forums, but people are utterly uninterested, and prefer to scroll tiktok and watch their TV.

Only when they actually encounter a bot a work that does 95% of their work, will they suddenly wake up, and organise, and demand a response. Hollywood managed to organize at an incredible speed to demand a slowdown to AI, but the water was at their necks already.

Now, its understandable why most people don't want to read about AI advancements. They have their lives, chores, children, weekend trips. They feel entitled to a life in statis, where revolutionary change doesn't happen unless they are the ones demanding it. Too bad reality doesn't work that way.

In the end, its individual choice, to go all in, to decisively steer your career path for a post-AI future, or pretend it doesn't exist, and enjoy their remaining years in their jobs in bliss. I will watch with fascination and horror what happens to the latter group.

geodel17 hours ago

> its individual choice, to go all in, to decisively steer your career path for a post-AI future, ..

I believe this number will be < 1% of all workers. Most of the remaining will adjust to new reality with little bit of persuasion/force and understanding.

Last month I traveled to my home country and found people seem very happy and well adjusted in extremely polluted city where I was staying and even claimed since they moved to little less congested area (equally polluted!) life has become so much better. I found most people do not care or understand and some were fatalist in sense "this world has become a nasty hellhole anyway and if it ends along with them it will be all the better".

Another thing I noticed that in a world far away from intellectually challenging work in machine learning / AI etc a lot of workers' lives are already controlled by lot of simple computer programs. Computers are arbiters of truth in large part of third world where trusting people is hard but computer has no reason to lie. If computer tell someone how long they worked, how much to be paid and so on it becomes amenable to most parties.

Depending on economic status of countries I see government are already preparing for jobless future of most workers and looking to provide free ration/lodging/medicine etc. There will be mismatch of expectation between what people think they deserve vs what governments can provide. And thats where I believe AI etc will be greatly used identify those who wouldn't take to easy path of agreeing to what's given. This could go until population collapse or reach to level where it is just enough to support then prevailing economic system.

hiAndrewQuinn17 hours ago

>They feel entitled to a life in statis, where revolutionary change doesn't happen unless they are the ones demanding it.

Truer words have never been spoken.

My bottomwit approach: On an individual level, use AI as far as I can push it. Maximize individual productivity. Then dump the resulting profits into index funds, to hedge against when - not if - my own cognitive labor becomes near worthless by investing in the productivity of the entire Earth, broadly defined.

datadrivenangel14 hours ago

This is a good investment strategy because eventually your cognitive ability will decline to zero even if AI does not advance any further!

coldtea18 hours ago

Yes, but it is a comforting lie.

kypro17 hours ago

> It's an uncomfortable thought but one we must face up to if it is to be managed politically, economically and socially.

Call me a doomer, but I doubt there's anything we can actually do to stop mass inequality in a future dominated by AI.

I worry political options here won't work because people misunderstand the roots of political power today. What I'm about to say is a very clear idea in my head, but I struggle to explain it well.

In a democracy power is distributed to all citizens, but the reason this system is stable is because those citizens have real collective power.

Historically this power has been physical – no single entity had more physical might than the armed resistance of its collective citizens. But today that power is mostly economic. Politicians must appeal both to businesses and citizens to remain in power and businesses must appeal to people to sell their goods and services and to attract employees. The most powerful entity in a capitalist democracy is the people since they are both voters and consumers.

The issue I have is that if 95% of your population is unemployed there's no longer much value in people economically. Additionally whatever demand they have is purely artificial and coming from the state in the form of welfare.

We need to remember true value isn't money. Money is what we use to acquire resources that are truly valuable to us. Things like food, planes, oil and gold.

If those who have access to AI can now acquire these things without trading with humans or employing them then businesses no longer need to care about humans at all. Food can be acquired without humans. Jets can be built without humans. Oil can be drilled without humans. Etc...

Similarly politicians will find that if the reason they value money is so they can acquire resources and businesses can easily provide all the resource they might want then there's really no economic gain to represent the people.

In this AI dystopian world I imagine you'll have a handful of resource creating businesses and the owners of these businesses simply trade resources with each other.

An additional problem we face with say some kind of redistribution of AI created wealth is that businesses are not tied to any nation. Assuming our political systems can avoid corruption and issue a 99% tax on companies leverage AI they might as well just leave. Then you can say, well we'll nationalise the businesses instead then, which is fair enough, but then you have the corruption issues again because how would we humans collective prevent state corruption if we're literally all just a drain on the state's resources and have no physical way to resist? Why wouldn't the state just say screw these leaches if that's what is in their economic interest?

Like I say, I can't explain this idea very well so sorry for this long rambly comment, but to try to end on something constructive here I think what we need to be thinking about now isn't what the correct rate of tax is in a world of AI, but how do we ensure people retain their collective power against businesses and the state? If we have no collective power then we should assume that with time any solution we try to implement will fail.

zackmorris16 hours ago

Dirty hands clean money.

What you're saying about the devaluing of human labor is becoming the central challenge of our lives. Because our human value doesn't actually change, but a measure of our productivity is assigned to us by the status quo. We work harder and harder but food and rent go up faster than we can keep up with. If a government can't provide its population the means to sustain itself, then the people democratically overthrow it, sometimes violently as history shows.

Meaning that the poor and working class now perceive GDP growth as violence against them perpetrated by a corrupt elite of moneyed interests, since wages started diverging from productivity in the 1970s as we transitioned to trickle-down economics. AKA the battle of main street vs wall street. At some point, working to survive becomes so arduous that it's easier to just go off-grid or remove the bosses French revolution-style.

So AI/automation becomes an actuarial problem. How high can wealth inequality become before millions of people come after the uber-rich with torches and pitchforks?

Meaning that UBI is no longer a question of if, but when. The wealthy will push for it in coming decades for their own survival.

kypro14 hours ago

> our human value doesn't actually change, but a measure of our productivity is assigned to us by the status quo

Disagree strongly with this. Our productivity is measurable and has always been the benchmark for which we have been compensated whether self-employed or employed. As our productivity has increased we have always made more in real-terms. Apart from short-term blips there's no exceptions to this.

Secondly, a system in which humans are given more than their collective productivity (economic value) will always be unstable. For example, if you owned an AI business in which you're handing people more economic value than they're giving you'd be better off just leaving the country because the relationship is parasitical and senseless.

> If a government can't provide its population the means to sustain itself, then the people democratically overthrow it, sometimes violently as history shows.

A government doesn't really create any value in an economy. In the Western capitalist model the private sector creates all of the wealth and the government simply syphons a chunk off the top and redistributes it. The reason the government can do this is because people have collective economic power, otherwise businesses would simply ignore the demands of governments. But in a world where humans provide neither economic demand or supply businesses won't care what you want.

For example, how do you propose we "overthrow" a government in a world where we're all government dependants and out gunned by the government? Are you going to go on a hunger strike or something?

If you can't fight or withhold your labour you have no power. And if the people collective have no power government will obviously be corrupted and no longer represent people – why would they?

This is this core issue I'm really trying to get at here. Simply demanding UBI can not work. We must first ensure humans retain their economic power or humans collectively have no leverage.

I'm 100% with you on the sentiment of your argument, but pragmatically I think you (and most people) underestimate how difficult this is.

pessimizer17 hours ago

> We convinced ourselves that it was only physical working class jobs that would be automated through self-driving cars and robots. That may well turn out to be true but a more immediate fact is that their jobs are rock-solid and safe.

This was the main delusion. The reason robots don't do the jobs of "essential workers" is because they are far more expensive at the same quality. A machine getting sick or dying costs a business tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, a person getting sick or dying is discarded into the gutter and a replacement is brought in.

A lot of people are getting paid for their opinions, though, or more specifically as the article puts it, their "text production." They are paid an amount far outstripping their usefulness for superstitious reasons: it's hard to predict the quality of the opinions of a future hire, so we just pretend that more expensive is better. To balance this out, society already made that class the most heavily taxed, and kept their existence precarious through surrealistically expensive health care, mandatory education, and homeownership (and in the US, I'd add dental care specifically.)

I don't see how they aren't all trivially replaced. Capitalists act like ownership is a job that deserves compensation, rather than a wager on what is usually a sure thing. It's not. Owners buy people to make decisions for them, in fact they overbuy and overstaff (creating bullshit jobs) and pit those people against each other to guarantee the best outcomes. The losers get sick, lose their homes, and their kids can't get into college; the winners get another day in suburban paradise with 60-hour weeks and two-hour daily commutes.

I can't imagine that 90% of high-status middle class jobs would survive properly-applied generative AI even at current quality, and techniques are getting better literally hour-by-hour.

At least we'll still need doctors, although at greatly reduced responsibility. Will they also cut hair?