Here's What The White House Thinks We Should Do About Automation

To deal with automation's impact on the US workforce, we should invest in artificial intelligence, STEM education and a stronger social safety net, according to a new report from the Obama White House.

The Obama administration today released a report on the role automation and artificial intelligence will play in the future of the US economy — namely, what will happen to workers as more and more jobs are automated out of existence. It's a follow-up to a previous report, 'Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence', that was released by the administration in October.

This new report advocates for two policies the administration has pushed for consistently throughout Obama's presidency: More investment in STEM education, and a stronger social safety net. The former means making sure training for high-skill jobs starts in early childhood and continues throughout college and beyond; the latter means strengthening unemployment insurance, introducing wage insurance, and modernizing tax policy in order to protect the low-skilled workers who are most likely to lose their source of income as a result of automation.

But what's new in this report, according to Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Jason Furman, is the focus on the benefits artificial intelligence could bring to high-skilled workers. Per the report:

AI technology itself has opened up new markets and new opportunities for progress in critical areas such as health, education, energy, economic inclusion, social welfare, transportation, and the environment. Substantial innovation in AI, robotics, and related technology areas has taken place over the last decade, but the United States will need a much faster pace of innovation in these areas to significantly advance productivity growth going forward.

The report offers as examples of areas where investment in AI could be particularly useful is in building a defense system against cyberattacks, as well as in detecting fraud in the financial industry.

But, the report goes on to say, any investment in technology or growth in the AI industry will have to be accompanied by an increase in diversity of the workforce that's building it. Currently, "the lack of gender and racial diversity in the AI-specific workforce mirrors the significant and problematic lack of diversity in the technology industry and the field of computer science more generally." That's a problem for a number of reasons, including that more diversity generally means better problem-solving and faster rates of innovation, the report says.

Another problem in AI that has to be solved is algorithmic bias, which, according to this report, is already a risk in the credit and insurance industries, as well as in recruiting. The report warns that the use of algorithms in the hiring process, for example, could "unfairly exclude new potential talent."

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