While the utopian vision of the current Information Age was that computerization would flatten economic hierarchies by democratizing information, the opposite has occurred. Information, it turns out, is merely an input into a more consequential economic function, decision-making, which is the province of elite experts. The unique opportunity that AI offers to the labor market is to extend the relevance, reach, and value of human expertise. Because of AI’s capacity to weave information and rules with acquired experience to support decision-making, it can be applied to enable a larger set of workers possessing complementary knowledge to perform some of the higher-stakes decision-making tasks that are currently arrogated to elite experts, e.g., medical care to doctors, document production to lawyers, software coding to computer engineers, and undergraduate education to professors. Autor’s thesis is not a forecast but an argument about what is possible: AI, if used well, can assist with restoring the middle-skill, middle-class heart of the US labor market that has been hollowed out by automation and globalization.
This essay was also published in Noema Magazine.