The AI danger facing us all right now in Midlothian and beyond

Friday June 2nd 2023


This View has been written by Midlothian resident Bill Kerr-Smith

Recent high-profile and inter-government discussion of the challenges, or threats, posed by AI have primarily focused on the potential for a superintelligent AI destroying humanity . These concerns must be taken seriously, but they obscure the most pressing threat.

We are already experiencing serious disruption to the jobs market, as AI takes over tasks currently carried out by humans. We should be demanding that our politicians immediately begin looking at the implications of what happens when “serious” becomes “overwhelming”?

Estimates of the scale of this threat to jobs vary widely but there is considerable uncertainty about how fast, or how far, AI job replacement will happen. What we do know for certain is that the major tech companies are shedding jobs in their tens of thousands and, here at home, BT is already talking about replacing much of its customer service team (over 10,000 people) with AI by the end of the decade.

We can expect to see this trend replicated across very large segments of the service sector – and the UK is now largely a service economy. Just under 5 million people are estimated to work in the UK service sector, with another almost 3 million in admin and support services . As many as 20% of those people (1.6 million) could be made redundant in as short a space of time as the date by which the UK holds its next election.

And this tragedy could happen if only the current level of publicly available AI is widely implemented. Unfortunately for us, there are much more powerful iterations of AI already in existence within the major tech companies – and the speed of advance in the field is faster than anyone anticipated.

In addition to the human tragedy of so many people losing their livelihoods there will be considerable impact of the subsequent loss of revenue to the Treasury. If we continue to apply current (outdated) Treasury orthodoxy, the income lost from now non-existent Income Tax and National Insurance payments will add considerably to the pressures on government budgets.

Unless alternative employment for those people is found, or innovative policies are implemented to mitigate the impact, then the cost of support for them and their families and for the local businesses that depend on their custom, the current cost of living crisis will seem like a minor hiccup.

And – to repeat – such an economic catastrophe is only what can happen if current AI is allowed to proliferate without constraint. Future generations (think 3-5 years) will have even more serious implications.

The last time there was disruption on this scale was when Margaret Thatcher oversaw the destruction of much of UK industry by using the profits of North Sea oil to fund the massively increased unemployment costs. But nothing was done to compensate for the impact on local communities and many – all across Midlothian and the rest of the UK – are still recovering from the effects of that act of economic incompetence. This time there will be no convenient windfall income to cushion the blow.

With such a dramatic example of the impact of catastrophic economic dislocation so clearly available within the living memory of everyone over 30 years old, surely we could expect our political leaders to be developing strategies and policies to deal with it? So where is the vision for ensuring that our already hard-pressed population is not plunged further into poverty and debt?

Options are available to reduce the hardship that AI can cause in the short term. But who is seriously talking about a wholesale restructuring of our welfare system, including re-naming it to fit its original purpose, which was a Social Security System? With emphasis on the Social and Security aspects.

If ever there was a time when leadership was desperately needed, it is now. Does anyone think that Rish! Sunak will re-shape the economy so that the burden falls on each according to their means? Or that Keir Starmer is going to propose the need for wealth redistribution or a Universal Basic Income before an election? But these are exactly the kind of discussions we need to be having right now, before the inevitable crisis hits.

Meanwhile our leaders get on with the process of distracting us by talk of “existential threats”, so that we don’t notice that their intellectual cupboard is bare. Make no mistake, we do need to ensure AI doesn’t lead to our extinction, but we also need to ensure that our future lives are not even more dominated by poverty and hunger.

Tweet Share on Facebook  

Subscribe to the Midlothian View newsletter

Support Midlothian View from as little as £1. It only takes a minute. Thank you.

Comments are closed.


Midlothian View Advertising