Artificial Intelligence the great leveller – Inequality & What happens Next?

Human history is at a juncture.  Since the second world war, the majority of humans have lived in relative peace.  After the war, the European & US population’s baby boomer generation prospered on the back of massive government spending on infrastructure, growth in the private sector in new technologies and population growth.

The term “the great leveller” is often used to describe a force or phenomenon that equalises or balances various differences or inequalities in society. Human history In the context of AI, it will refer to the idea that AI technology has the potential to level the playing field for various groups, such as automating repetitive tasks and reducing biases in decision-making. However, it could also raise new ethical and social concerns, such as job displacement and exacerbating existing inequalities. AI has the potential to equalise job losses across various industries and job types, however, the distribution of wealth remains a hotly debated issue. Currently, a small percentage of the population, the top 1% or the uber-rich (the top 0.1%) holds a significant amount of wealth. The impact of automation, brought about by AI and robots, on the middle class will inevitably bring about change in their financial stability.

Productivity levels made big increases from the 1960’s onwards and many companies and individuals were able to generate great wealth.  Fast forward to the last decade and productivity levels are in decline, wealth inequality is at record highs and wage growth hasn’t kept up with corporate profits and GDP.  In the US for example, manufacturers started to shift their production to China in the early 1990’s saving companies large sums in wages.  Employment unions gained less power and de-regulation by Thatcher and Reagen allowed companies to shift more profits to shareholders and company owners. Tax on wealth also declined, and income the top rate of tax in the UK went from 90% down to 50%. 

Manufacturing is still a large part of the US economy but efficiency has also resulted in fewer workers in some industries, for example in car plants.  Automation in the car industry has been around for decades but has accelerated in recent years as robots become more flexible and software integration has been implemented. The widespread adoption of robots in car production has raised concerns about job displacement, as many tasks previously performed by human workers are now automated. Many car manufacturers are focusing on reskilling and upskilling their workers, so they can take on new roles such as software development and battery production.  The potential problems are that robots and AI are keeping up with this upskilling and the drive for corporate profits increases automation.  Some jobs will clearly require skill and a lot of training and these jobs will no doubt demand large salaries but there will be a limited demand.  White-collar jobs are not immune from this shift in the labour market. Software/programming jobs, accountants, lawyers and general office workers are soon finding out that they are competing with AI.

Companies and individuals found ways to shift profits and income to lower-tax countries through tax optimisation strategies, such as transfer pricing and offshore tax havens. This has led to a decline in tax revenue for many governments and has sparked debates and discussions on the need for tax reforms and international tax cooperation. Some governments have taken steps to address these issues by implementing stronger tax laws and regulations, as well as signing international agreements to combat tax avoidance and evasion. However, the challenge remains for many countries to effectively enforce these measures and ensure that multinational corporations and wealthy individuals pay their fair share of taxes.

Inequality has no doubt made some issues considerably worse and although technology has often bought about massive wealth it has improved extreme poverty in some parts. The baby boomer generation has done pretty well overall and employees usually progressed up the career ladder with one company up boomers have also seen their house prices increase substantially.  On the other hand, many former industrial strongholds in the west have been left behind and have rapidly declined and many rely on government help.

Large companies have taken advantage of the massive GDP growths and monopolies have formed around the world and gotten bigger.  While it appears there may be 15 different airlines in the US in reality only 4 companies own these either through direct ownership or through large stakes in the companies.  Online and big software companies have been able to increase their market share in recent decades by using big data which has been invaluable to increase their market share and other tactics such as ruthless company takeovers and access to cheap capital.

Now societies face a number of problems and how AI can potentially fix them:

Climate change – It is difficult to fight climate change when a lot of wealth is concentrated and large corporations are not investing enough in climate mitigation and lowering their carbon footprint. However,  things are perhaps changing fast as governments introduce more regulations on carbon and waste. Countries in the EU such as France and Germany have recently introduced a tax on plastic and packaging, and the UK likewise has a new plastic tax law coming into effect in 2022. A good time to switch to compostable mailers :). AI can help to mitigate climate change by enabling more efficient and sustainable resource use. For example, AI-powered technologies can be used to optimize energy consumption in buildings and industry, monitor emissions and carbon footprints, and support the development of clean energy sources. AI can also be used to develop more accurate models of the climate and to support decision-making around climate mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Health inequality is affecting large parts of the western world. Health inequality is indeed a major issue in many countries in the Western world, and it has been fueled by a number of factors, including the rising cost of healthcare and the influence of corporate greed. As treatments and drugs have become more advanced, they have also become more expensive, putting a strain on health systems and making it difficult for many people to access the care they need. AI has the potential to improve access to healthcare and reduce health inequalities, for example, by enabling remote diagnoses and consultations, improving disease diagnosis and treatment, and reducing the cost of healthcare. Additionally, AI can be used to analyze large amounts of medical data, helping to identify new treatments and cures and to improve the accuracy of diagnoses.

Population growth, The world’s population is projected to reach 10 billion people by 2050, and continued population growth could put significant pressure on ecosystems, resources, and the environment.  Growing populations will increase the demand for food, water, energy, and other resources, which could lead to overconsumption and degradation of ecosystems, as well as increased competition for resources and increased pressure on infrastructure. This could also contribute to climate change, as increased resourca consumption will lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions. AI can be used to support sustainable resource management and to mitigate the impacts of population growth. For example, AI can be used to optimize food production, monitor water usage, and reduce waste. AI can also be used to support the development of new and more efficient technologies, such as renewable energy sources and sustainable transportation.

Collapsing birth rates and ageing populations in the west and countries such as South Korea, China and Japan.  Many societies will face difficulties in the coming years to care for their ageing societies. many young people have been put off having children to focus on their careers. The high cost of living has made it impossible for young people to afford housing cost, hold down a job and bring up children. AI has the potential to support the care of ageing populations by improving the efficiency of care delivery and enabling older individuals to live independently for longer. For example, AI can be used to monitor health and wellness, provide reminders for medications and appointments, and provide support for activities of daily living. AI can also be used to analyze large amounts of data, helping to identify new treatments and interventions to support the health and well-being of older individuals.

The societal collapse in history

The Mayan civilization, which was one of the most advanced civilizations of the ancient world, is thought to have collapsed due to a combination of factors, including environmental degradation, disease, and social and political instability. However, growing income and wealth inequality is also believed to have played a role, as the ruling class grew wealthy and powerful, while the majority of the population lived in poverty. Ancient Rome: The unequal distribution of wealth and power in Rome contributed to the decline of the Roman Republic and the eventual collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The wealthy elite used their wealth and influence to control politics, while the poor majority were marginalized and often lived in poverty. French Revolution: The extreme wealth inequality in France prior to the Revolution was one of the main drivers of social unrest, as the wealthy nobility and clergy enjoyed privilege and power, while the poor majority struggled to make ends meet. The Revolution was a direct response to these inequalities, as the French people rose up to demand greater equality and rights. Will this time be different? AI may provide answers and be able to set a clear path that allows humans to co-exist with robots which is beneficial to all.

What happens next?

In the next decade, there will be big changes. We will get a lot of robots mixing with humans in various industries and aspects of daily life. This trend, known as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, will bring new opportunities and challenges. The working week will go to 2 or 3 days, which will bring about challenges in themselves, including how society will generate wealth, pay pensions, and keep people engaged in society. There will be more leisure time and a lot more interaction with robots who will probably entertain us too.  Robots/AI will help clean the environment, clear the seas of plastic pollution and help create nutrient-rich food fit for the 21st century. Overall, the change should be positive but there could be a lot of upheaval and stress during the transition. What is clear we don’t need AI to reach the singularity and become sentient for the technology to have a meaningful effect on society.  Some tech execs think we are not that far away, perhaps even reaching this milestone before 2030. When this does happen, the human race will never be the same again.


Artificial Intelligence the great leveller – Inequality & What happens Next?

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