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White House: AI Could Disrupt Millions of Jobs, and Policy Needs to Adjust

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Artificial intelligence-based technology—self-driving cars and house-cleaning robots, for instance—could soon "disrupt the current livelihoods of millions" of Americans, the White House says.

AI-based automation could "expand the American economy" by creating new markets in sectors such as health and education. But as the technology becomes more sophisticated and replaces jobs, often those involving repetitive tasks that algorithms can easily model, AI "will not be costless"—to keep up, employees in lower-skilled jobs will have to learn more skills.

AI's potential economic benefits, then, won't be evenly distributed across employees of all skill levels, the report said.

Eventually, AI could lead to "unemployment and increases in inequality over the long-run," but policy has the potential to slow the effects, the report says. The White House suggested prioritizing education for Americans: ensuring children have access to early education, encouraging high school and college students to graduate and helping Americans afford post-secondary programs.

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The report also recommended fortifying "the social safety net"—unemployment insurance, Medicaid, food stamps, wage insurance and other benefits—to help employees whose careers are disrupted by automation.

Policymakers also need to consider how to prevent "algorithmic bias"—the ways companies weave together disparate data sources to determine credit scores or insurance eligibility; one strategy might be to encourage "diversity and inclusion in STEM fields," as well as among AI developers.

The White House has also advocated for including ethics classes in data science and computer science education, Ed Felten, the Office of Science and Technology Policy's deputy chief technology officer, told reporters in a call Tuesday.

But there's still hope for humans, the report noted—they "maintain a comparative advantage over AI" in areas including social intelligence, creativity and judgement. And though AI can surpass humans in tasks such as image recognition, the physical dexterity of robots trails far behind.

"[O]ccupations that require manual dexterity will also likely remain in demand in the near term," the report said.

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