Artificial intelligence

If AI takes over the world, capitalism may well not survive

Ken Chu says it is time to think about what form of economy and society can ensure that we get the most out of AI and robots, to defend against future human joblessness and tech titans cornering all the riches

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 July, 2017, 8:46am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 July, 2017, 5:18pm

New technologies are advancing at a rate never seen before. Many people are gravely concerned that humans will soon be displaced by artificial intelligence, robots and all kinds of cutting-edge automation. Take the driverless vehicles under testing. If cars are self-driving and accident-proof, would we need drivers or even insurance? Will such technology put us out of work?

Telsa CEO and SpaceX founder Elon Musk has even warned that we should start regulating AI because it might pose great existential threat to humanity. To some, this is unfounded paranoia.

Undeniably AI and robots will revolutionise our way of life, our labour market and our economy. And many of the changes will be positive. For one thing, it would be faster for AI to identify effective cures for disease. And AI can take over the repetitive jobs humans do.

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But there is a catch. Whether or not we can enjoy and relax in this future “labourless” world hinges upon how fairly and efficiently the economic benefits generated by AI and robotic machines are to be distributed, or only individuals and big corporations able to control and invent AI and robots would have access to these benefits.

The fundamental question is: what form of economy and society can ensure that we derive the most out of AI and robots in the future?

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We don’t expect tech overlords who invent and own robots or AI to share the benefits with the rest of us. Therefore, theoretically, a capitalist free-market economy may not be ideal for the future AI and robot world, for capitalism is primarily driven by human greed and maximising self-interest.

Already, more and more wealth is increasingly owned by an ever smaller fraction of the super-rich. Tech advances may only exacerbate this trend.

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Should governments step in to remedy this inherent deficiency in the capitalist economy? If yes, how?

Governments cannot afford to let selfish profit-seeking big corporations dictate the AI and robot economy. The government must look after the millions of idle human workers deprived of any means to support themselves and their families, after they are replaced by AI and robots.

It is no wonder that there have been voices calling for taxes on AI and robots, so as to use the money collected to make society more egalitarian.

However, this is not the ultimate solution, because big sleazy corporations can always find ways to avoid paying tax. Therefore, we may need a fundamental change in our economic structure and society.

Perhaps a sort of planned economy is one of the answers?

Dr Ken Chu is group chairman and CEO of the Mission Hills Group and a National Committee member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference