By Alex Pursglove and Krishna Pendyala
When over 15 million American soldiers returned home following World War II, they faced challenges like PTSD, homelessness and unemployment. In response, the US government acted, seizing on this opportunity to help those who had sacrificed for their nation while also benefitting the US economy overall. Through the passage of The Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the GI Bill, the government provided a means for veterans to reintegrate into the workforce. By offering post-high school education assistance, members of this “Greatest Generation” could learn new skillsets and earn degrees that would provide livable incomes for these veterans and their families.
In today’s world, the government faces a similar set of circumstances. Its citizens, veterans and civilians alike, face a lack of job availability through the accelerated use of automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI). According to a November 2017 report by the McKinsey Global Institute, research suggests that up to one-third of U.S. workers and 800 million globally could be displaced by 2030. The professions most susceptible to automation include physical ones in “predictive environments,” such as machinery operation, fast food preparation, and transportation. McKinsey suggested with the report that with this increase of automation, “income polarization could continue in the United States and other advanced economies.” These numbers are unsettling. But with knowing this research in advance, are there multiple opportunities for our country to begin preparing now for the future displacement of one-third of our workers?
Let’s look at the GI Bill. After WWII alone, over seven million veterans utilized benefits of the GI Bill; two million of those veterans used the program towards higher education. By offering direct educational assistance to the Americans who were most adversely affected by the current state of affairs, the government put a dent in the unemployment rate in the post-war era.
The GI Bill is an impressive example of a time when our government saw a need and took concrete steps to solve a problem. We have not always acted proactively, however, in terms of workforce development in our country’s history. The most recent example is the impact of globalization on manufacturing. According to an article on CNN.com, when globalization swept the manufacturing industry in 2000, it resulted in over 5 million Americans losing their jobs over the last 15 years. Globalization was not a seismic change; its effects were a long time coming. With all the positive changes globalization established, its impact also caused quite a bit of discomfort to our citizens as countless jobs were lost. Today, we face a similar crisis that will be brought on by the increased utilization of AI.
Overall, people tend to ignore what is uncomfortable and pretend it’s not happening. But this mentality means many workers are left behind when the transition occurs. As automation brings benefits to our society, it will also result in displacement. What will these people do? How do they maintain their standards of living and quality of life at the same time? One option is to get ahead of the game as a country by offering an “AI Bill.” If an AI Bill was structured as a scholarship fund to provide re-training in automation and AI training for current workers in a “physical, predictive environment,” we could see the same success in addressing the needs of American workers today as we saw in the post-World War II era.
Of course, any new government program requires funding and marketing. There could be an opportunity to examine and reallocate funding from our tariffs imposed on foreign trades. For example, we could look at placing tariffs on imported products that were created from heavily automated systems overseas. This revenue could then be used for the AI Bill scholarships, thus, leveling the playing field for American workers displaced by automation.
Just as the GI Bill requires individual veterans to motivate themselves to take advantage of its benefits, the success of the AI Bill would require a pro-activeness in the American worker to seek out new job training. When we look at the trends of history, it’s very clear that innovation is not going away nor slowing down. The explosion of AI in professional industries is coming. Thus, we have one of two choices in how we respond to the innovation. We can ignore it, like we did with globalization, and allow ourselves to be blindsided by the realities that are coming with the influx of automation. Or, we can make a conscious choice to respond to the future, starting now. How do we begin making the best choices we can to take advantage of the shift that’s coming, rather than being left behind because of it?
We as individuals can begin contacting our legislators about implementing an AI Bill. Even if the government does not create an AI Bill, the American worker has other options to get ahead of the changes. There is a wealth of online courses on learning AI and many of them are free! Udacity.com offers an incredible variety of courses ranging from “self-driving car engineering” to “virtual reality development” to “automated data analysis” and more. These courses, as well as many others, are available to anyone who has the motivation to begin learning today.
All over the country, veterans are transitioning into new industries to maintain or even improve their quality of life by getting educated to become police officers, teachers, helicopter pilots, business owners, etc. What informed choices can we start making now so that the average American worker who will be displaced by AI in ten years can remain a productive member of the U.S. economy, while maintaining his or her quality of life? Let’s take advantage of what we’ve learned from history and examine the possibilities of an AI Bill. Just as the GI Bill was promoted all over the country to raise awareness and utilization of its benefits, an AI Bill would need the same level of promotion to make people aware of how to take advantage of it. Perhaps the next stage of action figures should be “AI Joe” and “AI Jane” – raising awareness of the AI Bill through “real American hero” figures who take the initiative to leverage the many opportunities now available to save their careers, contribute to the economy, and create a good quality of life for their families!
Originally published at mindfulchoices.org