In a recent episode of The Ezra Klein Show, Ezra and Patrick Collison (CEO of Stripe) talked about the differences between the sorts of issues that policy wonks care about and the types of issues that most other people care about. One of these is artificial intelligence (also referred to as "robot stuff," I assume). Throughout the rather dismal presidential election cycle that just passed, I don't recall artificial intelligence or the increasing automation of work being discussed in any of the debates, but the ramifications of this kind of technological advancement will be enormous. Self-driving cars alone could dramatically lower deaths related to car accidents, shrink commute times, lower infrastructure maintenance costs, and even eliminate the need to own a car before too long. Why aren't we talking more about how to best take advantage of these sort of technological advances while mitigating the potential drawbacks?
Fortunately for us, the aforementioned policy wonks are doing the heavy lifting here. Jerry Kaplan, an entrepreneur, computer scientist, and general smart guy, has given a lot of thought to this. In Humans Need Not Apply, he lays out the recent history of artificial intelligence, how its development is likely to progress, and the kind of policy changes that we'll need to adopt in order to adapt to this new reality. While I found this book to be accessible and even surprisingly funny at times, I should warn you that he isn't afraid to get into the weeds here. For example: there's an entire chapter about whether or not artificial intelligence programs should be granted legal personhood.
In a book brimming with valuable insights and great ideas, the one that interested me the most was his proposal for the creation of a "Public Benefit Index" (PBI). A PBI would rate companies based on the number of shareholders that they have, with companies that boast broader pools of shareholders receiving higher scores in the PBI than companies that are owned by a smaller group of people. The government could then provide targeted tax incentives for companies to improve their PBI scores. Because artificial intelligence and automation further tilt the scales in favor of capital over labor, policies of this nature will be essential to prevent inequality from spiraling even further out of control over time.
As much as I love complaining about Trump's latest asinine tweets, it was refreshing to immerse myself in the nuances of an area of public policy area that is already important and will only become more important. If you're in the mood for some wonkery, this book is highly recommended.