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Roughly half of Japan’s workforce would lose their jobs if artificial intelligence replaces intellectual human labor to the maximum possible extent, states a joint study by the Nomura Research Institute and the University of Oxford.

I cannot agree with this conclusion, which is said to have been drawn by an AI program based on a quite simple “supervised learning” concept. But I think it would be great if technological innovation serves to free half the adult population from labor for production, because what AI brings about is not unemployment but liberation from labor.

Gross domestic product, which is the aggregate sum of value added within a country, is distributed to capital and labor. At present, the labor share stands at around 60 percent, most of which is allocated to individuals in the form of employee compensation.

The remaining 40 percent is allocated to capital-owning companies, which in turn will be divided into two forms and redistributed — as interest and dividend income and corporate income. The average tax rate is about 5 percent for employee compensation, 20 percent for interest and dividend income and 30 percent for corporate income.

Since AI, introduced for the purpose of improving capital efficiency, serves to cut down on the labor force required for production, it is only natural that the labor share would fall and the capital share would go up. Suppose the number of workers needed for production is halved; the labor share of GDP would go down to about 30 percent.

Assuming the above-mentioned tax rates are in force, tax revenues would increase by up to 50 percent. Since the total sum of income and corporate tax revenues in 2018 was ¥32.2 trillion, introduction of AI would boost that total by some ¥16 trillion. How should this increased tax revenue be used most effectively?

First, public services should be improved and expanded. Education, medical services and elderly care should become free as the need arises, and the shortage of teachers, nurses and caregivers should be solved. Necessary and sufficient funds should be earmarked for environmental protection. These and other measures would lead to a sharp increase in public sector employment.

Second, increased tax revenues should be spent to promote academic research projects and education as well as the nurturing of artists, all of which are regarded as being “worthless” in the market economy system. Scholarships should be created to support young men and women who aspire to study “useless” subjects such as philosophy, history, literature and pure mathematics.

To accept and to provide greater employment opportunities to these people, several research institutes and universities specializing in humanities should be established with financial support from the government.

Similar support should be extended to youths aspiring to become artists. To help refine people’s aesthetic sense and cultivate interest in history, admission charges for art galleries and museums should be eliminated and the number of curators should be increased.

When people are freed from the economic yoke of poverty, labor, production and money, their interest is bound to move away from economics and toward such areas as philosophy, literature, the arts and pure natural sciences.

Ancient Greece produced philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle as well as renowned mathematicians including Euclid and Archimedes. Many such people of great wisdom were able to devote themselves to those “useless” subjects primarily thanks to slaves in ancient city states known as polis, who accounted for one-third of the population and engaged in harsh labor, mainly agricultural production, for which they received no remuneration.

AI, often called the last technological innovation in the history of humankind, is nothing other than a mechanized slave in that it liberates humans from labor for production. The government, which confiscates a part of value added by AI in the form of taxation, should spend a large portion of the increased tax revenue on promoting academic learning (the humanities and pure natural sciences) and the arts (including traditional crafts), both of which could be viewed as useless from an economic viewpoint. This is because following the Fourth Industrial Revolution, people’s interest will undoubtedly shift away from economics and production and to culture and nature.

Today, students who have studied useless subjects at university face difficulty in getting a job. Besides, research funds allotted by the government on those subjects are minuscule compared with those set aside for “useful” subjects.

The government, which will gain huge sums of revenue thanks to AI, should take active steps to use the money to promote studies on subjects that do not contribute directly to the economy and therefore are deemed useless, so that the subjects will be among the options for talented young men and women.

The elite selected from among those talented youths should be given the privilege to devote themselves to reading, meditating and debating at research institutes and universities with financial support from the government. Clearing the way toward a “renewal of Renaissance” through those means should be the outcome of social transformation brought about by AI.

I would like to quote lines from a novel that show that useless subjects are in fact useful. In the newspaper serial novel “Michikusa Sensei” by Shizuka Ijuin, future famous novelist Natsume Soseki (1867-1916), who ranked at the top in every subject at the elite Daiichi High School, expresses his desire to go to the Imperial University of Tokyo to study architecture after graduation from the high school.

Upon hearing this, his friend, also reputed as a brilliant student, tells Soseki: “Artistic structures you are contemplating will never come into being even in 100 years. So I advise you to study literature instead. If you work hard enough, you may be able to produce masterpieces that will be read for hundreds or thousands of years. That would be a way of contributing to this new country.”

Following this advice, Soseki went on to major in English literature. And sure enough, his masterpieces continue to be widely read today. Thanks to AI, an age in which people who study useless subjects can contribute to their country as Soseki did is near at hand.

Takamitsu Sawa is vice director of the International Institute for Advanced Studies in Kizugawa, Kyoto Prefecture.

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