Artificial Intelligence (AI) has progressed rapidly over the last 12 months. If we were to describe its impact on society as a novelty today, it’s likely to transform into a necessity within the next two years, especially in the business world.
Worker Strikes Today
Currently, the United States is experiencing a surge in labor strikes. Workers are advocating for higher pay and shorter working hours. For instance, the United Auto Workers union (UAW) is currently on strike, demanding a 40% increase in pay and a 32-hour work week. Just three weeks ago, UPS managed to avert a strike by ratifying a new contract that provides drivers with an annual salary of $170,000. The Writers Guild has also been on strike for several months, seeking increased pay and better residuals deals, while healthcare workers are planning to strike next week.
In short, workers are striving for higher wages and an improved work-life balance, which is understandable considering the rapid increase in inflation. However, I believe their demands may not be in line with inflation. In the case of the UAW strike, workers are requesting a 40% pay increase, whereas year-over-year inflation is hovering around 4%.
What These Demands May Lead To
Herein lies the problem: if workers achieve their demands, they might inadvertently increase the risk of losing their jobs to AI. If companies are compelled to raise wages by 40% and reduce work hours to 32 per week, they will likely seek ways to boost productivity while cutting costs.
Ask any CEO or business owner, and I’m confident that 99.99% will tell you that their primary goal is to maximize profit. In the case of auto manufacturers, they already operate on single-digit profit margins, and shareholders don’t reward declining margins. So, what’s the likely course of action?
They will opt for the replacement of expensive human workers with more cost-effective and productive AI solutions.
Not So Far In The Distant Future Anymore
A decade ago, workers had significantly more leverage. The idea of replacing human workers with AI was confined to science fiction movies. Even just five years ago, it was challenging to imagine machines replacing humans in the workforce.
Today, the threat is more palpable than ever. We can witness it unfolding before our eyes. ChatGPT is already taking over tasks previously handled by copywriters and other writers. Machine learning is outperforming humans in detecting diseases faster and more accurately. I recently observed a robot preparing drinks at a bar, and in my neighborhood, numerous compact robots deliver food from local restaurants. My car can autonomously handle 90% of my daily commute, and AI-driven carts serve food at restaurants.
Are Workers Aware Of The Risks?
It’s worth questioning whether workers realize just how close they are to being replaced by AI. Slowing down the progress of AI might be in their best interest, rather than pushing their employers into a corner through strikes. This approach could lead to unintended consequences, as companies may expedite their investments in AI and robotics with the anticipation of eventually replacing a significant portion of their human workforce. It’s worth pondering whether the president of the UAW recognizes this possibility, especially considering his swift rejection of Ford, GM, and Stellantis’ offers of a 20%-21% pay increase.
Ironically, the greatest threat to human workers posed by AI may be humans themselves. Are they inadvertently undermining their own job security by going on strike?