Onar Åm is a renowned speaker and author in Norway and writes extensively on libertarian issues.
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This article is the sixth part in a series on how technology disrupts politics. The topic of part six is Artificial Intelligence.
For more than half a century, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has captured the imagination of scientists and the public. Popular culture is full of smart machines, such as in the iconic movie Terminator. Reality, however, has been embarrassingly bleak. The technology has failed to deliver on its promise. AIs still fail to do the simplest of tasks that even a five-year-old child can do with ease.
However, AI has finally reached a stage where it has entered the lower end of human intelligence. Smart machines, such as self-driving cars, are on the cusp of entering the workforce. That can turn out to disrupt politics. The reason is controversial and taboo: the bell curve of human intelligence.
Some people are so bright that they can do almost any job, and some people are so mentally limited that they are unable to perform most jobs. Clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto explains the relationship between IQ and job performance.
This is an uncomfortable fact, and the left has therefore reacted to it in their usual manner: by denying that it exists. Intelligence is a social construct, they claim.
This fear of the uncomfortable has already had political consequences. IQ is the single best predictor of academic and work performance, and so the politicians have banned them. Schools and employers cannot use IQ tests to select students and workers.
But the truth will not disappear just because someone pretends otherwise. The sad fact, as laid out by Peterson, is that there are few jobs available in our high-tech society for people with an IQ below 85, or roughly 15% of the population. With the rise of AI, more and more low-IQ jobs will disappear. Peterson explains that driver is the largest employment category for men in the U.S. Google and other companies are already testing out self-driving cars.
As machines get smarter, the IQ-threshold for entering the workforce increases, pushing more and more people into permanent unemployment. People who never work often feel useless and worthless, which can breed pain, drug abuse, resentment, and violence. Given the right circumstances, political ideologues can harness the power of hatred and direct it into political violence, as we have seen inklings of recently with Antifa and Black Lives Matter. It can get a lot worse. Therefore, America desperately needs to have an honest conversation about these problems.
One person who recently tried to address this problem is Bill Gates. In an interview, he proposed to tax robots that take jobs from humans. In practice, Gates describes an expansion of the welfare state to pay for the permanently unemployed low-IQ population that follows in the wake of smarter AI technology.
Gates’ proposal is a likely political outcome of AI, and anyone who would like to see lower taxes and a smaller government had better be prepared with good counterarguments.
Fortunately, there may be an antidote. The first step is to identify the fundamental problem. It is not obvious why a high-tech society should become more and more cognitively demanding. On the contrary, technology has allowed people with modest cognitive abilities to outperform even the most brilliant minds of just a few generations ago. With search engines, most people can find information that before was limited to a small elite. Why shouldn’t technology similarly be able to make other tasks less cognitively demanding? The answer is regulations.
A regulation is essentially an IQ test, a cognitively demanding hurdle the government creates that one needs to overcome to be allowed to do some task. For every new regulation that politicians and bureaucrats make, job opportunities are therefore taken away from people below a certain IQ. Since 1950, the number of regulations in America has exploded, as visualized by the video below. Most likely, this is the primary source of the rising IQ requirement for workforce participation.
One way to counteract permanent unemployment is, therefore, to remove and reduce the number of regulations.
AI may also partially come to the rescue. Following rules is one thing computers master quite well. As machines become smarter, they may become valuable tools for overcoming the IQ-hurdle of government regulation.