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'We're Not Going to Run Out of Work'

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The American workforce is at a crossroads. Digitization and automation have replaced millions of middle-class jobs, while wages have stagnated for many who remain employed. A lot of labor has become insecure, low-income freelance work.

Yet there is reason for optimism on behalf of workers, as scholars and business leaders outlined in an MIT conference earlier this month. Automation and artificial intelligence do not just replace jobs; they also create them. And many labor, education, and safety-net policies could help workers greatly as well.

That was the outlook of many participants at the "AI and the Work of the Future Congress" conference, marking the release of the final report of MIT's Task Force on the Work of the Future. The report concludes that there is no technology-driven jobs wipeout on the horizon, but new policies are needed to match the steady march of innovation; technology has mostly helped white-collar workers, but not the rest of the work force in the U.S.

"We're not going to run out of work," said Elisabeth Beck Reynolds, executive director of the task force, and executive director of the MIT Industrial Performance Center.

She added: "Clearly the distributional effects of technological change are uneven. We've seen the reduction of middle-skill jobs [due] to automation, [along with] jobs in manufacturing, administration, in clerical work, while we've seen an increase in jobs for those with higher education and higher skill sets. . . . Our challenge is to try to train [workers] and make sure we have workers in good positions for those jobs."

The notion of social responsibility was a leading motif of the conference, which drew an audience of about 1,500 online viewers. 

"I believe that those of us who are technologists, and who educate tomorrow's technologists, have a special role to play," said MIT President L. Rafael Reif. "It means that, while we are teaching students, in every field, to be fluent in the use of AI strategies and tools, we must be sure that we equip tomorrow's technologists with equal fluency in the cultural values and ethical principles that should ground and govern how those tools are designed and how they're used."

From MIT News
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