“When the train of history hits a curve, the intellectuals fall off”

When the train of history hits a curve, the intellectuals fall off

Karl Marx

Vinod Khosla wrote an article yesterday about the coming impact of artificial intelligence. In the final paragraph he uses the above quote from Karl Marx (one of my favourite philosophers) to make the point that history might not be a good guide for what’s going to happen next.

Let me explain.

Automation from artificial intelligence and robotics puts up to 40% of developed world jobs at risk over the next couple of decades. When large numbers of jobs have been wiped out in the past new jobs have been created to take their place. The transition might have been painful, but it happened without too much disruption.

This time round it might be different. History might not be a good guide because for the first time the old jobs might disappear much more quickly than new jobs can be created. Or, and this is worse, for the first time robots and computers might become better than people at whole classes of jobs and the jobs may never come back. That’s the scenario that Khosla raises.

Another thing that’s new is that we live in a global economy. Capital and people are mobile now, particularly wealthy people. As a result, national taxation systems are no longer effectively able to redistribute wealth.

Unless we do something I think we are looking at a future of high unemployment and increasing wealth inequality. At the very least that’s a plausible scenario, and it will be dangerously unstable.

As Khosla says, we may well need a new type of capitalism.