Although making the wealth of emerging tech accessible in every community is a critical part of confronting the robots/AI employment threat, it isn’t the only issue we’ll need to address. One pressing concern is that even if huge numbers of jobs aren’t eliminated, too many of the remaining jobs may not pay well. For example:
- The Paradox of Automation’s Last Mile. Researchers Mary Gray and Siddharth Suri have shown that for every round where AI automates away work, humans play a critical role in developing or cleaning up the data needed to train AI and handling the behind-the-scenes work that AI can’t yet manage (e.g., responding to a customer complaint). Most of this “ghost work” can be done by just about anyone, so it rarely pays well.
- Care Work. It’s not clear if robots will be able to take care of children or the elderly, but even if they could, we might not them want to. But care work has never paid well because it’s been considered “women’s work.”
Given that people who obtain full-time jobs or create small businesses/co-ops in emerging tech will be in an economically advantageous position, over the long run we will need to see if there are ways they can use their position to help people who end up in lower paying jobs. Sometimes this may simply be a matter of supporting their organizing efforts. Other times it may involve helping them to bring the economic benefits of emerging tech into their jobs. For example:
- Pushing companies to develop the emerging tech home care aides use so that it enables some home care aides to become power users, gaining more skill and making it easier to advocate for better pay
- Helping organized nursing home aides gain a say on the direction of efforts to automate their work so their jobs become less physically demanding and more mentally and emotionally fulfilling over time
It’s unrealistic to expect this kind of support early on – emerging tech activists will already have their hands full. But as they dream about when their efforts could lead 20 years from now, it’s worth at least beginning to ask questions about how successes with emerging tech might be leveraged to help all people in their community.