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The Poverty of AI Pessimism

Following the public release of powerful generative AI applications like ChatGPT, a growing chorus of pioneers in the field has spoken up to highlight the dangers that the technology poses to economic stability. But while sound regulation is obviously needed, scare-mongering could do more harm than good.

LONDON – Hardly a week goes by without various pioneers in artificial intelligence issuing dire warnings about the technology that they introduced to the world. I got an early glimpse of this emerging pessimistic consensus a couple of months ago, when I attended a dinner with some AI experts who suggested that millions of relatively sophisticated, high-paying jobs could be at risk. I came away asking if this bleak outlook is really justified.

I have my doubts. Since the start of my professional life in the 1980s (and of course for much longer), technological progress has repeatedly been held up as a major threat to jobs in key industries such as automobile manufacturing. Yet until the Brexit debacle, the United Kingdom was producing more vehicles than it did in the supposed heyday of the auto industry, owing to the role of sophisticated new technologies in boosting leading producers’ core businesses. In the northern English port city of Sunderland, Nissan currently operates one of the most productive auto plants in the world.

Likewise, despite German autoworkers commanding relatively higher nominal wages, the country’s carmakers have managed to adapt and thrive for decades, competing globally and helping to satisfy a growing global middle class’s demand for high-quality performance vehicles. Yes, German auto companies face their biggest challenge yet with the global transition to electric vehicles, and the slowdown in China implies weaker growth in the short term. But if the past is any guide, the industry could adapt and emerge even stronger in the future.

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