Could Automation Replace the One Percent?

A while ago I read a report about a fast food company owner who suggested that he could replace most, if not all, of his staff through automation. I thought, “how would he feel if he could be replaced by automation”. Is their work really that much more complicated that cooking hamburgers. My original idea was that this could be a concept for a story, but I also wondered if it were possible.

Who Are the One Percent?

At the outset I want to define who I have in mind. My view is that the elite of society can be divided into two groups, the financial elite and the intellectual elite. I believe most people think of the financial elite when they hear the term one percent. That is who I have in mind.

What is the Role the One Percent Play in Society?

I believe that the one percent plays a useful role in society. Their role is to decide where money is invested. This is necessary for any economic system to function. By way of contrast, the intellectual elite provide ideas and innovations for society. Of course there are a few individuals that will fit into both groups.

Can Artificial Intelligence(AI) Systems Perform the Role of the One Percent?

I strongly suspect that the role of the one percent can be automated. A large part of their work is clerical in nature, which we know can be automated. A great deal of work has already been done to automate the financial system.

Consider a couple examples:

  • Investment firms use computer based systems to manage their stock trades;
  • Banks use automated systems to evaluate loan applications.

These systems have been controversial because of undesirable side effects. However, I think they do show that a well designed AI could very well be able to play the same role as the one percent.

What Would AI Investors be Like?

I imagine that these AI investors would not be mobile robots, but would be accessed through the Internet. I expect that there would be some kind of central system to monitor the AI investors and facilitate their inter communication. However, there would be many individual AI investors, no two exactly alike. Possibly every person would have their own. This would make the financial system more of a free market.

Advantage: AI Systems Are Not Greedy

Some people say that “greed is good”, but I don’t agree. The basis of free markets is that people work in their own self interest. Deciding on your self interest is an intellectual process. In contrast, greed is an emotional process.

My late wife had a story that illustrates this point.

A monkey was travelling through a forest and came across a banana tree. He climbed up and took a banana from the tree in one hand. Then he took a second banana in his other hand. He was greedy and wanted more bananas. He put one banana under his armpit and held it there will his arm. He then took a third banana. He was still greedy and wanted more bananas. He did the same thing with the banana in his other hand.

He now had four bananas. That still wasn’t enough for him. He held up his arm to put another banana under his arm pit. When he did that, the banana there fell to the ground. He then grabbed another banana, which left him with four bananas. This continued for hours. He had picked hundreds of bananas, but still only had four. The rest littered the forest floor below, of no use to him or anyone else.

A monkey who was concerned with their self interest would have stopped after four bananas, or maybe even two.

Advantage: AI Systems Do Not Need to Make a Profit

Profit would have no meaning to an AI investor. Its only goal would be to stay solvent. It would tend to remain about the same size and would not grow to the point where it could exert control over the market.

Advantage: AI Systems Would Not Exert Political Influence

One of the complaints about the one percent is the influence they have in politics. AI investors would have no political interests, and therefore, would have no influence.

Disadvantage: AI Systems Could Malfunction or be Hacked

Anyone who has worked with computers knows that bugs can arise in any system. This would be a real problem with AI investors. It would require methods to monitor and correct problems as they develop. If, as I suggested earlier, there are large numbers of independent AI investors, individual bugs would be less likely to cause systematic problems.

Hacking could be a more serious problem. There are many people who would try to hack into AI investors, or even the central system, to turn things to their advantage. This is a problem with current computers systems. Large scale efforts are under way to address hacking, and will likely continue in the future. Again, monitoring systems and having large numbers of AI investors would help mitigate the impact of hacking.

Could This Happen?

While I think this approach is technically feasible in the longer term, it would need to overcome substantial barriers. Not the least of which would be that the current members of the one percent would be reluctant to give up their positions to an AI system.

I still think it might make a good premise for a story though.

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