AI should be a tool, not a curse, for the future of work

The New York Times highlighted the comments made by Dan Huttenlocher, chair of the MIT Jameel Clinic, and David Autor, a J-PAL affiliated professor, during a kick-off meeting held in December 2023 for a new MIT initiative they have organised examining the future of work. David is co-director and Dan is a co-coordinator of the new initiative, called 'MIT Shaping the Future Initiative', which asks how humans can use machinery and AI to augment their work rather than replace them entirely.

Dan commented: "[Artificial Intelligence] fundamentally changes the nature of what it means to be human” because it outstrips human reason—something that was always considered uniquely human, and argued that humanity should make AI a “collaborator.” David, meanwhile, spoke to the issue of union organising and introducing new machinery and technologies to workforces.


If you aren’t already scared about artificial intelligence, you will be after you read the next sentence: “If science continues undisrupted, the chance of unaided machines outperforming humans in every possible task was estimated at 10 percent by 2027, and 50 percent by 2047.”

That’s the aggregated forecast of 2,778 researchers who have presented their work in top-tier publications and conferences, according to research that was released this month but not yet published in a journal. Folding clothes and wiring a new home were two of the tasks they were asked to think about. The date of 2047 for the 50 percent chance is 13 years earlier than researchers were estimating in a survey conducted one year earlier. (Hat tip to Ethan Mollick of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania for pointing out this study in his Substack newsletter.)

One plausible scenario is that the machines will come for our jobs one by one until the only working human beings on the planet are the judges on “America’s Got Talent.”

But things don’t have to turn out that way. It’s still possible for the human race to direct A.I. so that it complements and augments rather than substitutes for human skills. Gardeners use hoes and rakes rather than clawing the soil with their bare hands, right? Artificial intelligence can be the hoes and rakes of the 21st century.

A new project is dedicated to precisely that proposition. It’s called the M.I.T. Shaping the Future of Work Initiative.

The New York Times