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Human Protectionism In The Defence Against Artificial Intelligence.

Phil Bennett Posted by Phil Bennett in AI 5 min read

AI won’t take your job and won’t significantly impact the number of jobs people can access. Not because it can’t; looking at the rapid progress we are making with the technology, it’s easy to predict it replacing many types of employment. 

It won’t take your job simply because the human race is inherently inefficient, protectionist and driven by baseline genetic social urges. 

I do not intend this newsletter to be some anti-progress artificial intelligence bashing tirade. However, it’s hard not to think about it right now with all the hype around GPT4 and the digital doomsayers philosophising about its potentially revolutionary impact on the world’s job market. 

I fear the hype is a transparent way of reinflating the rapidly deflating tech bubble. The recently released list of ChatGPT plugins reads like a ‘who’s who’ for companies grasping at redefining themselves after the recent financial struggles. 

Again, no criticism of the tech; it’s fantastic. However, I think its impact will be significantly lower than some people suspect because humans will continue humaning. 

Job Protectionism. 

Historically humans have been very good at keeping jobs alive. This method of “Job Protectionism” comes in many forms. At its extreme, we call it “Artisanal”, the process of keeping alive skills and practices that would have long been replaced by machines or automation if not for some kind of romanticism. 

We will still happily pay significantly over the odds for bakery products created by hand over equally tasty ones mass manufactured by machines. A handcrafted piece of furniture commands substantially more value than a similarly perfect, machined version from IKEA. 

This love for handcraft scales up to luxury automobiles, the romantic notion of a high-performance supercar handcrafted by Barry and Susan in a shed in some remote part of the UK. A car with handstitched leather seats and a hand-carved ebony dashboard commands significantly higher value than a similarly performing car made on an automated production line in the pacific rim. 

Why? It’s simple. We don’t trust machines. 

Examples with Data 1: UK Retail. 

For the past twenty-odd years, the media has been lamenting the death of traditional retail as traditional high-street retail brands fall one by one. It’s easy to see why. eCommerce has risen massively, cannibalising the revenue of offline, bricks and mortar shops. 

This online onslaught and the increase in self-service technology make it easy to see how retail job numbers have been decimated over the last ten years. 

Except, they haven’t. In 2008 3.1 million people were employed in the UK retail industry. That number was pretty much the same in 2018

Despite massive technological advancements, these jobs are still there. So even as we reach peak capitalism, jobs we can easily replace remain. 

People still want to buy things from other people, probably due to a lack of trust in machines and an inbuilt need to connect to other humans. 

If you had the option of two neighbouring stores with the same stock, same prices, and same service time, but one was 100% self-service checkout, and the other was full of smiley people, which would you choose?

Note: Yes, yes, I know some of you would choose the machines, but, looking at the numbers, most are choosing the human connection. 

Example with Data 2: US Car Manufacturing. 

We’ve heard the stories of the embattled US car manufacturing industry. The fall of Detroit, the invasion of Asian imports and the triumph of efficient German engines as fuel prices soar. 

The US automobile industry has had it bad over the last few decades. Additionally, as factory automation has progressed massively, we’re at a point where fully automated manufacturing plants are a realistic possibility. 

We can easily deduce that employment rates would have dropped significantly with the above information. 

<insert sound of a big comedy game show wrong answer buzzer here>

Nope, they’ve increased 20% in the last ten years, from 800,000 to just over a million in Feb 2023

Job Protectionism. 

Humans are very good at creating jobs for themselves where, logically and financially, it makes much more sense that a machine does the work. It’s a protectionist inefficiency trend that I can’t see us bucking with the next technical jump forward, AI. 

We don’t trust machines. We will employ human editors to quality-check for tasks we get AI to do. Then we will consume with great scepticism preferring, as history has shown, a hand-crafted human version of whatever is created. 

We will also continue to employ humans because … well … mostly … we just like them. Why hire one AI when you can use four humans who care about you, make you laugh, pick you up when you’re down, and are there by your side when the going gets tough?

Yes, AI will significantly impact how we do our jobs, the type of jobs, and how we interact with the world. But I can’t see it significantly reducing the overall number of jobs.

Technological innovations tend not to change available job numbers dramatically over the long term, and this one won’t. 

This Week Recommendations

Listen – Eat, Sleep, Work Repeat

A recent episode of this excellent podcast on “Brains, Hormonse and Time” covers the invisible ingredients of human relationships, and it’s a great listen.

Read – The Creative Act Of Being – Rick Rubin

This book by probably the world’s most influential music product, Rick Rubin, is a rollercoaster ride on creativity. It flips between some of the sagest and most sensible advice I’ve ever read on the invention process to some challenging viewpoints around creative energies and comic power. One minute I think Rick is a genius; the next, a nonsense-spewing Charleton; the next, I’m questioning my beliefs and making this LinkedIn post just me channelling cosmic energy at the right time and place. 

Watch – Class Action Park

This last one is only very loosely related to business but takes an interesting turn at the end about the chaotic environment at a water park that led to the death of several of its patrons to Reaganomics. It’s a stretch but an exciting summary of a mind-blowing situation.