AI can contribute to human flourishing, but there are things it cannot replace

The rise of artificial intelligence has been surrounded by a lot of pessimism. Debates about AI inevitably revolve around the risk of replacing professionals and even entire industries, from doctors and radiologists to Tom Cruise’s “Maverick” in Top gun.

America’s anxieties over AI are uniting even Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently unveiled a bipartisan plan to address AI and protect traditional jobs.

While there are still many uncertainties about the impact of AI, there is room for positivity when it comes to the boom economy. AI’s current iteration of large language models can Strengthen the American dream by increasing social mobility and reducing inequality. This potential to foster flourishing should be at the center of current policy debates.

Starting with the glass half full, AI has already improved education and learning, providing unprecedented access to knowledge. In addition to simple access to information, AI algorithms offer personalized learning experiences tailored to individual needs, regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic background.

Education leads to employment. While concerns remain about the impact of AI on employment, there are still more job openings than people looking for work. Labor force participation remains very low, showing that more people can and should enter the labor market.

The danger of AI automating our jobs is in the distant future. Historical evidence suggests that new technologies often complement human capabilities rather than completely replace them. AI LLMs can augment human intelligence, improving productivity and efficiency in various industries. As a result, individuals can transition into more complex and rewarding roles that require higher-order thinking, creativity, and emotional intelligence. For example, “new-level jobs” are on the rise, and AI and LLM help develop skills through non-traditional educational pathways. This, in turn, leads to other types of jobs and even new job categories.

AI can also reduce barriers to entrepreneurship and innovation. AI-powered tools allow entrepreneurs to analyze large amounts of data, identify market trends and make informed decisions, leveling the playing field for startups and smaller businesses. This encourages innovation and drives economic growth, ultimately leading to job creation in various sectors. AI can drive a business revolution and create new jobs, which will continue to represent the most important source of income for people in the future.

In many parts of the world, access to essential services such as healthcare, legal advice and financial planning is limited, especially for marginalized communities. Fortunately, AI has the potential to close this gap by offering virtual assistance and expert advice. In fact, AI tools will potentially contribute trillions of dollars to the global economy by 2030.

Flourishing also depends on a wide range of other factors that AI cannot replace or replicate. Some of the most important literature in the field of social mobility has demonstrated the importance of family structure and parental involvement at an early age. The work of Nobel laureate James Heckman, along with that of several co-authors, suggests that parental involvement and early childhood education are crucial to improving mobility and reducing inequality. Disparities in socioeconomic outcomes during adolescence and later in life date back to early childhood.

Two-parent homes generate more parental involvement, such as reading to children and playing with them. Mellisa Kearney calls it “two-parent privilege.” Lenore Skenazy also points out the importance of free play in developing skills at an early age. AI can help parents and children, but it cannot replicate love.

AI aside, policymakers should also identify other opportunities to drive economic prosperity, especially in terms of entrepreneurship. A key bipartisan issue is occupational licensing, which imposes barriers to certain occupations. If those barriers are not removed, it will not matter if different people learn new skills through AI, when they are not able to act on those new skills. Burdensome occupational licensing has been shown to be detrimental to upward social mobility, increasing income inequality.

Another crucial issue for social mobility is social capital, community and connectivity. AI can help address this by making people more productive at work and helping them gain free time that they can use to volunteer in their communities or spend with their families. But, at the end of the day, building a community is a human and social task by nature.

Human psychology still matters. If people don’t feel like they have the ability to overcome the barriers that stand in their way, no amount of AI will push them up the income ladder. The same goes for the importance of meaning and purpose in their lives. If they are missing, no artificial intelligence tool will be able to create them.

AI will be a powerful catalyst for social mobility in the 21st century, but let’s not exaggerate its potential. AI is called “artificial” for a reason. There are many other fundamental pillars for flourishing, and we ignore them at our peril.

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