Please Stop Calling Everything AI

This is a battle that I suppose I have no hope of winning, but it would sure be nice if journalists (and marketing folks) could stop throwing around the term AI for everything that works a little better than it did last year. It’s true that some of the advances in things like machine learning, quantum computing, and conversation bots have been pretty stupendous. My jaw drops at some of this stuff, and yours should too. Nonetheless, none of it is artificial intelligence or, really, even very close to it. It’s like calling the original dynamo of the 1830s an electrical generating network. Those dynamos were important because they made things like telegraphs and telephones possible, but true electrification was still decades away. Likewise, what we’re doing today may end up as the foundation of true AI, but we aren’t there yet.

You may wonder why I care. A little marketing hype never hurt anyone, after all. The reason is that I believe AI will cause massive dislocations in the labor market, and we’d best get ready for them. One of the most common counterarguments, however, is that if AI robots were truly putting people out of work, then we’d see labor productivity going up. (Fewer people making more stuff = higher productivity.) But that’s not what we see:

Not only has labor productivity declined a bit over the past 60+ years, but it’s cratered over the past ten years, precisely the time when AI has supposedly started making huge inroads. So the doomsayers are wrong, wrong, wrong.

Ahem. We would be wrong if the past ten years really had seen the introduction of true AI. But it hasn’t. Nevertheless, a lot of people are persuaded by this argument because they hear, on nearly a daily basis, about some new AI breakthrough.

Bottom line: We don’t have AI yet. We’re still a decade or two away from true, human-level AI. In the meantime, what we’re getting is baby steps toward improved automation, which will have a growing impact on the labor market (for example, when self-driving cars and trucks become a reality) but probably won’t lead to massive dislocations.

But around 2030? Or maybe 2035? All hell is going to break loose. I’m still not sure precisely what we can do about this, but the first step is to at least understand what we are and aren’t dealing with today.

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate