photo by: Franck Veschi
Researched by: Marilou Almendras
During a recent talk at Stanford University, I couldn’t resist quipping, “Everyone is busy here making the rest of the world useless.” My latest talk in Palo Alto, the new haven for the “masters of the universe” amid the decline of the wolves of Wall Street, was supposedly about my latest book, “The Indo-Pacific,” which chronicles the emerging US-China Cold War in the 21st century.
But discussing the sweeping, overwhelming, and ultimately decisive impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on our lives in front of a mixed audience of tech experts, former military personnel, and academics was tantalizingly inevitable.
While the Industrial Revolution saw the rise of the capitalist bourgeoisie and the working-class proletariat, historian Yuval Noah Harari warns that we now face a new social divide between AI owners and the majority “useless” class.
In the not-too-distant future, newly emerging countries like the Philippines, which have heavily relied on information and communications technology (ICT) investments, will be among the hardest hit.
Power is the initial source of disturbance. Leading experts like Kai-Fu Lee correctly claim that those who control the most recent technical frontiers will control the future of power. In his seminal work, “AI Superpowers,” he argues that the battle for AI dominance is more or less deadlocked between China and Silicon Valley.
Lee believes that the full impact of the AI revolution will be felt within the next 10-15 years, as AI superpowers develop algorithmic machines that will transform the global military-industrial complex.
This is primarily due to the fact that AI has recently passed a critical juncture. Previous rounds of technology innovation predominantly disrupted blue-collar labor with human intelligence augmentation (IA) techniques. Even the most respected professions are now in jeopardy.
We have now entered the “Second Machine Age,” according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, in which the latest technological wave allows for the automation of even advanced cognitive functions, such as accounting and lawyering.
The impact on labor markets will be massive. According to a groundbreaking study by Oxford University’s Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, “up to 47 percent of jobs in the developed world are vulnerable to disruption over the next decade or two.” The developing world is in the same boat as the developed world.
According to research conducted by the International Labour Organization, up to 137 million jobs (56 percent) in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam are at risk of becoming automated. In the Philippines, up to 49% of jobs may be lost. The business process outsourcing industry, which has been the engine of our country’s prosperity for the previous two decades, may experience up to 80% job losses.
However, other technophiles, such as economists at the Asian Development Bank, believe that the current wave of innovation will result in the creation of new jobs. Consider the drivers of Uber and Grab. The main pitfall of techno-optimists, on the other hand, is that they dangerously overlook the enormous psychological stress caused by technological disruption, increasingly precarious jobs, and the rapid evisceration of life-long, purpose-driven careers, which gave meaning to the lives of billions of people over the last century.
Countries like the Philippines will most likely have a decade or two to undertake required policy preparations and capitalize on existing opportunities afforded by the fragile globalization process. We simply can not afford the poisonous mix of irrational public policy, antiquated governance approaches, and deranged populism that has affected much of the world in recent years.
AI, on the other hand, has far-reaching effects. Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger contend in “Re-Engineering Humanity” (2018) that artificial intelligence is already transforming human thinking and behavior patterns as we develop next-generation algorithmic devices.
This is why a diverse group of intellectuals, including Yuval Noah Harari (“Homo Deus”), Francis Fukuyama (“Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution”), and Slavoj Zizek (“Less Than Nothing”), are emphasizing how AI will alter our very experience and understanding of being.
Based on bodily vitals and patterns of online and offline behavior, AI will eventually know more about us than we know about ourselves, including why and with whom we fall in love. “History is a record of ‘effects,’ the vast majority of which nobody planned to produce,” wrote Joseph Schumpeter, who coined the phrase “creative disruption.”