IMF’s Gopinath: We lack the ‘luxury of time’ with A.I.


The boom in artificial intelligence tools, from image generators to chatbots like ChatGPT, is pushing people to make wild predictions on how these tools might change jobs as we know them. Some experts worry that A.I. could drastically reshape the labor market, driving down wages and even making some jobs extinct.

Now, a top official at the International Monetary Fund is joining the crowd of those worried about A.I., suggesting that we may not much time to determine how to protect people from the new technology.

“There is tremendous uncertainty, but that …doesn’t mean that we have the luxury of time to wait and think of the policies that we will put in place in the future,” Gita Gopinath, IMF’s first deputy managing director, told the Financial Times

“We need governments, we need institutions and we need policymakers to move quickly on all fronts, in terms of regulation, but also in terms of preparing for probably substantial disruptions in labor markets,” she added. 

Gopinath, a top deputy at the IMF, pointed to automation in manufacturing as an earlier example of how a new technology threatens jobs—and could have unintended political consequences. Economists had long argued that new machinery and technologies would make people more productive over time and drive costs of goods and services down.

But experts were wrong to predict that workers laid off due to automation would find new opportunities in different industries, Gopinath argued. “The lesson we have learned is that it was a very bad assumption to make,” she said. “It was important for countries to actually ensure that the people…left behind were actually being matched with productive work.”

Separately on Monday, Gopinath warned that A.I. could “be as disruptive as the Industrial Revolution was in Adam Smith’s time,” referring to the 18th-century economist whose ideas on free markets and labor shaped modern economics.

“Despite A.I.’s potential, we need to consider the broad negative effect it could have on employment—and the social upheaval that could cause,” Gopinath said during a speech at the University of Glasgow.

Gopinath warned that with A.I., there is a risk that some jobs may hurt more than others. For instance, with middle-skill jobs being replaced by automation, there is a widening gap between high- and low-paying jobs in the economy. 

These could have a negative impact on globalization, and to avoid it, Gopinath suggested “social safety nets” for workers impacted by the deployment of A.I. or other automation technologies, according to the Financial Times.

A.I. predictions and regulations

Some economists have echoed Gopinath’s worries in the past about A.I. disrupting jobs. 

“I think there’s a risk that ChatGPT makes us a lot more productive in easy-to-do stuff, but the hard part to figure out is how we can use A.I. to create innovation that then creates new occupations and new industries,” Carl Benedikt Frey, an Oxford economist who predicted “computerisation” would wipe out 47% of jobs in the U.S. a decade ago, told Fortune in February. Frey also warned that the disruption from A.I. could also drag down wages.

Generative A.I. could have an outsized impact on gross domestic product worldwide. In an April report by Goldman Sachs, the bank said that in the next 10 years, A.I. could increase global GDP by 7%—equivalent to to $7 trillion—lifting productivity by 1.5%. The World Economic Forum predicted that over the next five years, A.I. could change how jobs look and cause “significant labor-market disruption.”

The anticipated gains might be good news for economies, but employees are still grappling with how their roles may be impacted immediately. For instance, studies show that jobs of telemarketers and some teachers are most threatened from A.I. advancements. Tech companies like IBM have already deployed A.I. internally to automate “repetitive back-office processes.” 

While changes take place at a rapid pace, countries are trying to build safeguards to regulate A.I. In the EU, lawmakers approved the A.I. Act last month that categorizes the technology by its degree of risk and sets rules accordingly. The U.S. hasn’t made as much headway—in April, the Biden Administration is still mulling over what accountability measures to introduce.

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