Conservatives who should know better have been spilling much ink of late lamenting declining test scores. What has them up in arms should have them bullish. The great venture capitalist Vinod Khosla explained why at a the Wall Street Journal’s Tech Live conference.
According to a report by the Journal’s Deepa Seetharaman and Georgia Wells, Khosla predicted that within ten years artificial intelligence (AI) will “do 80% of 80% of all jobs that we know of today.” On its own, this is incredibly optimistic news if it comes true. What is technology but the saving of labor? If technology will soon enough handle “80% of 80% of all jobs,” stop and imagine how intensely productive the workers of tomorrow will be. Think about it. What is an assembly line but the division of labor that enables rampant specialization in concert with huge surges in productivity? Imagine what workers will be able to accomplish in the future at a fraction of the time. Time is, other than human capital, the most valuable economic input of all, and Khosla is predicting machines will soon render humans exponentially more capable in much smaller time increments.
Khosla added his belief that “the need to work in society will disappear in 25 years for those countries that adapt these technologies.” About this, it’s difficult to disagree with Khosla about the The End of Work (the latter a book I published in 2018) that’s on the way, but the bet here is that in 25 years people will be working more than ever. I obnoxiously referred to the previous phenomenon as Tamny’s Law in the aforementioned book. Precisely because AI will result in such staggering abundance, people will largely be free to do for a job what they can’t not do, not what they must do in order to survive. When we’re doing work that reinforces the genius that resides within every single one of us, work is defined by passion. It’s what we can’t get enough of.
So, while the ongoing rise of AI signals productivity of the kind that will enable four, three, and two-day workweeks, the speculation here is that people will always be working even while not at work. Mass automation of so many aspects of toil signals soaring specialization that will remove much of what’s disagreeable from what we do for a living.
At the same conference, OpenAI’s Sam Altman re-asserted his view that “We are really going to have to do something about this transition” to AI, but he shouldn’t worry. One guesses he’s secretly not worried. Really, when in history have societies defined by rapid technological advance been rife with misery and people lacking options, or “agency” as Altman refers to it? The reality is that progress is a lure for the copious investment without which there are no companies and jobs. We don’t need to “do something” about AI simply because the biggest “problem” with it will be that people will have to decide which unique skill they’ll turn into a career, or careers for that matter. We’ll only have to “do something” if choice is a problem.
Back to conservatives and test scores, it should be said that markets anticipate. And the people are the market. It’s unsung for now, but the wager here is that the biggest reason for falling test scores is rooted in Khosla’s point that AI will soon enough supplant all manner of work. Yes!
The simple truth is that knowledge acquired in the past by those who aimed to be doctors, accountants, and all sorts of other professions, will not be relevant in the future. The greatest gift of technology is that it clears our brains of what we no longer need to know. Test scores are falling and will continue to fall simply because AI will happily render education even more irrelevant to future achievement than it already is.