The internet is full of people worrying about there being too much AI, too fast just around the corner. But what if there’s not enough in a timely manner?
These days, people are worried about AI taking their jobs. And who can blame them, with all the stories circulating about AI’s great accomplishments. (P.S. If you’re looking for a counterweight to the hype, read Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence We Can Trust by Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis1. And subscribe to Gary Marcus’s Substack while you’re at it.2)
It’s only natural that workers would worry about their jobs and livelihoods, when employers have a history of eliminating workers wherever they can. But employees are not the only ones who should be worried. Employers may find themselves wondering what they’ll do when AI can’t replace enough workers.
The Baby Boomers, the largest generation of all time, are retiring. Generation X and Millennials are already entrenched in the workforce while Generation Z/The Zoomers are entering the workforce. So we can basically say Gen Z is tasked with replacing the Boomers.
So what’s the big deal?
As Peter Zeihan is constantly reminding us, Gen Z is tiny in comparison to the Boombers3. Gen Z simply doesn’t have enough bodies to replace the exiting Boomers. On top of that, Gen Z is highly educated and great with technology. Very few in Gen Z want–or have the skill–to replace the blue collar Boomers leaving the workforce. In the coming years, we can likely expect a shortage of workers in fields like plumbing, carpentry, and truck driving.
Workers would be foolish not to exploit their leverage into better wages, benefits, and conditions for themselves. Despite what the prophets of AI may claim, AI is not ready to replace these missing workers.
In America (and much of the West), we’ve built our economy around cheap labor. This strategy made sense when we had the population to support it. And if there wasn’t someone here willing to do the job, you could bet there was someone on just the other side of the border eager to take on the task. But what does our world look like when you can’t count on imported labor when other populations are experiencing a similar decline, but at a faster rate?
The anti-immigration crowd really won’t have a leg to stand on. As David Frum has pointed out, the question isn’t whether we should allow immigration. The question is, How much?4 The follow-up question is, What kind of immigration should be allowed?
If, for whatever reason we’re worried about not having enough workers in the future, it sure would be nice if AI could help out a bit.
I’ll take this chance to echo a point I’ve made on other platforms: I’m not concerned that AI is ready to replace humans; I’m concerned that it isn’t ready but people will try to make it happen anyway. Some will try to make it happen because they’re excited by the hype. Some will make it happen because they don’t want to pay workers. And at some point, some will make it happen because they’re having trouble finding anyone with the proper skills to hire.
It would actually help if AI were as capable as its prophets insist. AI could help fill the labor gap and save a lot of people a lot of pain. So maybe we’ve been looking at this AI issue all wrong.
If only AI really were up for the tasks as has been promised, maybe then we’d be in for less headache in the years ahead.
Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence We Can Trust by Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis ↩︎