An (Artificially) Intelligent Future for California?

Californians harboring dystopian fears would have us believe that the state is sowing the seeds of its own destruction by leading in the development of artificial intelligence. Consider state legislation introduced this year that would fine companies like Uber $25,000 a day per vehicle if they operate self-driving cars without a permit. They are wrong and the future is not a scary place.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the development of computer systems to simulate intelligent human behavior, such as making decisions, translating languages, or noticing visual and speech cues. Some believe that dominant AI will eat jobs, opportunities and careers. While innovation naturally brings some disruption, the reality is that AI will provide benefits that accentuate our lives as we live them now, and new jobs, careers, and industries will arise from its deployment.

Consumers are well aware of the opportunities. According to a recent poll by PricewaterhouseCoopers, consumers are excited by AI particularly because of its potential to advance cybersecurity, personal data protection and privacy. The potential in enhancing global health in part by finding cures to challenging health care issues such as cancer, and advancing clean energy solutions are also not lost on consumers.

AI holds the promise of being a key tool in combating some of our biggest challenges of technology security. Companies are exploring how AI can become a trusted assistant to work already being done, and hoping that one day AI will begin creating personal cybersecurity based on individuals rather than a one size fits all approach.

AI is the future of work, and it will change how we live. New jobs, new industries, and increased productivity propelling greater economic growth will take place during another period of disruption. Also revealed by the PWC poll, consumers are comfortable with this near future, looking forward to a world where jobs for tutors, tax preparers, travel agents and office assistants may be limited. However, at the same time they see that AI could create more careers in, health, legal services, finance, and transportation. Menial tasks will be reduced with more time freed for creativity and deep thinking. But that disruption is in fact, in a healthy, growing economy, the norm.

The essence of competition, of capitalism, is the process of creative destruction. This is also a naturally occurring cycle, the old replaced with the new. This is something to be celebrated, not avoided or feared. Without it we would still be lighting our homes with whale oil, hitching our horses to a buggy and even drinking coffee from an electric percolator.

Remember the beginning of the internet age when there was nothing we recognize today as a modern network. People worked hard and had to be inventive, learning to adapt and get by with little. Many, in fact the vast majority, would fail. Just when the tech world seemed to settle into a predictable pattern with consumers riding the innovation wave, the .com bubble burst. That bursting was an extinction level threat to the whole ecosystem.

But while the industrial herd was culled, survivors were strengthened. New creations sprang from the wreckage, begun by buying assets for pennies and hiring those with recent valuable experience. Recall the days of technology companies hiring anyone they could find whether or not they had a tech background, and when office rents in Silicon Valley were so high that entrepreneurs retreated to garages to invent.

While the mobility wave faced many of the same obstacles and set-backs, the move to mobility is ever increasing. The idea of being attached to a cord is becoming as quaint as a buggy whip. Similarly, new business models will emerge, most still unimagined, and drive growth again as AI applications expand.

California is likely to lead the way as it has with other workplace disrupting trends. Whether Elon Musk, Peter Thiel and others’ AI research center OpenAI, Google’s recently launched venture capital fund to focus solely on artificial intelligence, or Facebook’s drive to create “the best AI lab in the world,” the Golden State is clearly the world leader in AI.

To keep California’s economy growing, the Legislature and the Governor must resist the temptation to embrace an “Earth is flat” approach to AI that protects the status quo. Policymakers must embrace the future and adopt policies that welcome disruption.

This disruption is the continuation of the virtuous economic cycle. We should rejoice at the newest new economy that will be brought to all of us by California innovation.

Bartlett Cleland is Senior Fellow in Tech and Innovation with the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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