President of Northeastern calls for human intelligence in response to AI

Nov. 30, 2017

There has been some debate about whether robots who displace workers should pay taxes, as I reported last March. Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University and author of Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, starts with the premise that robots won’t pay taxes. Commenting in The Boston Globe on the current debate over tax law in Congress, he writes, “While lawmakers battle over familiar grounds of supply-side economics and widening inequality, they’re ignoring the game-changing fact that artificial intelligence and automation will wipe out millions of jobs—up to 50% in the coming decades, according to some studies.”

And not only do robot employees not pay taxes—they don’t buy consumer goods either, he emphasizes. “Unless government leaders take decisive action soon, we won’t be arguing over how to slice the existing economic pie but about what to do with the crumbs,” he writes.

Aoun comments on initiatives in other countries to address the robot future. He notes that China is automating rapidly, but South Korea wants to decrease tax deductions for automation, and the British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to raise corporate taxes to pay for educating displaced workers. “These are different prescriptions reflecting different values and philosophies,” he writes, “but at least they represent action in the face of the AI revolution.”

He calls for a far-sighted national strategy recognizing that the “…answer to greater artificial intelligence is greater human intelligence.” He notes that education has been the key to adapting from the Industrial Revolution to the digital one. “Education is how we update our operating systems,” he says.

“It’s essential that we rethink what it means to have a ‘useful’ education,” he adds. “People of all ages will need literacy in technology and data, but also immersion in the human subjects that elevate us above the most brilliant machines—nourishing our empathy, cultural agility, and creativity.”

He calls for incentivizing educational innovation and encouraging lifelong learning. “We cannot delay the arrival of brilliant technologies, but we can learn to live and work with them,” he concludes. “The solution is education.”

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