Collapsing Human Support: Can Artificial Intelligence Be Our Rescue Rope?
Question: Have you tried scheduling an appointment with a clinical psychologist in a public clinic? Have you tried arranging therapy for a child with a speech therapist? Or perhaps you've tried to find a good institution with high quality nursing services for an elder in the family?
If you've been in this situation, you're already familiar with the problem. Every field of work, where people are needed in order to help others overcome a difficulty or disability, is collapsing. And it's not personal against anyone. This is happening in almost all Western countries.
Here are just a few examples:
In the field of nursing, there aren't enough hands to support the helpless, elderly, and even disabled individuals. The field of public mental health has collapsed. There are barely any psychologists in the public service, and if you or your child have a mental breakdown, you will have to wait to receive the most appropriate treatment for you, which, by the way, will be abbreviated and not what you really need.
People want to help others, however…
The story here is NOT about a lack of people who want to help others.
Higher education institutions in the fields of special education, psychology, and nursing are filled with students who would be happy to receive training and work to teach others, help them recover, rehabilitate, live good lives. People want to be kind and to help others, and perhaps that's the greatest magic of human society.
The story is about the fact that the salary offered for those supposed to provide these public services does not adequately reflect the skills required in the profession. We undervalue human aid.
After all, if caregivers, providing a warm hand, and changing the diaper of a helpless person or elder, were to receive an appropriate salary, which they totally deserve - it is likely there would not be a shortage in caregivers. If a clinical psychologist, whose job it is to help people change their lives, and who underwent professional training of 10 years, was offered a slightly higher salary in public service, psychologists would not be lacking either.
What happens in human society that leads us to undervalue the services we are most proud of? Those involving human kindness and mutual aid?
There are, of course, a thousand ways to Rome, and I will suggest one, trying to examine things in a slightly more analytical and critical way.
How much value do people provide when they get up in the morning to work?
My answer is related to the "portion of human labor in the world's economic market". This portion expresses how much money passes, how much value is created, due to the fact that people get up in the morning and work. The complementary portion is capital in the economic market - how much value is created from things like real estate transactions (when we rent an apartment), buying oil, or from computer programs that get up in the morning and work instead of people.
Global research shows that since the 1990s, the part of people's work in the economic market has dropped by 10%, while the share of capital has correspondingly risen by 10% (1,2). Simply put, this means that when we get up each morning to work, the value we provide is diminishing, whereas the value created from capital is growing. Capital, of course, is owned by a select few.
There are several processes that have occurred since 1990 and affect this ratio, but the most significant process is the introduction of computers into our lives. Briefly, there are programmers who get up in the morning and work hard to develop programs that reduce the need for human labor, and the result is that people still have work, but their labor worth less.
It's important to say: in the past, the last idea was refuted. There are many stories that every child in the street can already declaim. One of them is the story of the bankers in the 1970s who stopped focusing on transferring cash to customers due to the development of ATMs, but in fact, they could then devote their time to activities that required more talent.
But today, as mentioned, the data point to a different situation – jobs are yielding less return than capital, thus people's livelihoods are less sufficient.
The rise of artificial intelligence
All of this is said before artificial intelligence enters the picture (which is happening right now), or should I say, crashes the value that people provide in their work like a mallet flattening schnitzels.
In fact, artificial intelligence enables software programs to be more autonomous in performing very complex tasks. This simply means that in the future, artificial intelligence will be able to drive programs or robots that operate with greater skill than humans in many professions. It will be able to diagnose better than doctors, read contracts better than lawyers, issue reports better than accountants, and even replace programmers. Of course, some will benefit from this, but in most cases, when the skill required for the task decreases, the salary also decreases accordingly.
Human support is what we're left with
When all this happens, what will humans be left with? What will we always value in humans?
To the same extent that computers can beat any person at chess, but human chess competitions are in fact more popular than ever - we will always value the choice of people to help another person, to teach him/her a thing or two about life and try to make his/her life more comfortable and less painful. When people choose to make an effort for another, they choose to invest their limited energy, and therefore we find great value and meaning in it.
In this sense, it might be true that artificial intelligence will dominate significant skills that will diminish the value that many people provide at work, but it cannot take over the value we find in human help. This is exactly the same value that in the past, in small communities or tribes, we used to receive fully from our close ones and is currently underfunded.
Therefore, the very same artificial intelligence that will take over jobs is supposed to help human society divert more resources towards professions of human support. In such a situation, we won't hear morning news about a shortage of caregivers, teachers or psychologists. There are many who would be happy to work in these professions, if only they were properly compensated.
1. Szymańska, A., & Zielenkiewicz, M. (2022). Declining Labour Income Share and Personal Income Inequality in Advanced Countries. Sustainability, 14(15), 9403.
2. Manyika, J., Mischke, J., Bughin, J., Woetzel, J., Krishnan, M., & Cudre, S. (2019). A new look at the declining labor share of income in the United States. McKinsey Global Institute Discussion Paper, 1-64.