Ensuring that the benefits of artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies are distributed equitably across society is one of the most important challenges we face as these technologies continue to develop and become more integrated into our lives and economies. There are several steps that can and must be taken by governments, companies, and other institutions to promote equitable and fair distribution of AI’s benefits.
First and foremost, we must ensure universal access to education and skills training that will prepare people for the jobs and skills of the future as many existing jobs are replaced or augmented by AI and automation. While AI will certainly transform many industries and job categories, there will still be increasing demand for skills and roles that complement AI such as jobs focused on uniquely human strengths like creativity, social and emotional skills, complex problem solving, and skills for roles developed around maintaining and developing new AI technologies. Access to education and training opportunities that include courses on data literacy, basic computer science and programming, ethics, and skills for jobs together with AI will be crucial for equipping the entire workforce with skills and knowledge to take advantage of new opportunities. Of course, achieving universal education access will require significant investments from both the public and private sectors, as well as innovative online and blended learning models that increase access beyond traditional structures.
Second, we must proactively work to ensure that the economic benefits of AI are widely shared. This will require policies and market incentives that promote more broadly distributed productivity gains and also support workers during career transitions. Structural changes to education, social insurance systems, labor laws, and models of lifelong learning may be needed. Industries adopting AI should be encouraged to invest savings from increased productivity into worker retraining, high-quality public education, wage increases and new job creation that offers equitable opportunities for reskilling. Governments will need to complement these efforts through industrial strategies focused on net new job creation, effective active labor market policies, and modernized social safety nets including portable benefits. Careful consideration should also be given to complementary policies like universal basic income that could help ensure more widespread sharing of economic gains.
Ensuring equitable distribution of AI’s benefits will also require a focus on accessibility for people with disabilities. Advances in AI, combined with technologies like computer vision, virtual assistants, and advanced prosthetics have enormous potential to empower people with disabilities by making their lives more independent and productive. However, this will only be realized if accessibility is prioritized from the outset when developing new technologies. Developers should proactively consult with disability communities and follow widely accepted accessibility standards to “design for disability.” Public funding can further encourage private sector innovation in accessibility by supporting research on novel applications that extend human capabilities.
At the same time, availability of affordable, high-quality internet access will be crucial for ensuring communities in rural areas and low-income populations can take advantage of educational and economic opportunities unlocked by AI. While internet penetration has increased globally in recent decades, a significant digital divide still exists in many parts of the developing world and poorer regions. Coordinated private and public investment will be needed to expand broadband infrastructure to close these gaps. Regulatory and business models must also make internet access genuinely affordable for all socioeconomic groups on a sustainable basis.
In addition to accessibility issues, equitable distribution of AI’s benefits will require fairness in how these technologies are developed and applied. It is well documented that machine learning algorithms can reflect and sometimes amplify the biases of their human creators or the data used to train them. This could disadvantage marginalized groups. Significant research is still needed to develop technical methods and best practices for auditing algorithms for unfair biases related to factors like race, gender, ethnicity, disability status, and socioeconomic background. Meanwhile, the composition of the AI workforce itself must also become more diverse and inclusive to broaden perspectives involved in building these systems. Partnerships between researchers, communities, and regulators will be important to develop equitable, human-centered approaches and address unfair impacts or historical injustices.
As AI increasingly impacts many jobs and industries, appropriate worker protections and support during workforce transitions will be vital. New employment models like portable benefits, earnings protections, retraining programs, and other active labor policies can help provide a “social cushion” during inevitable disruptions. Governments should aim to implement just transition programs that offer support, opportunities and time for retraining. Companies adopting new technologies also have an important role to play by prioritizing worker wellbeing, including redeployment or phased retraining schemes where possible instead of sudden layoffs. The benefits of rapidly advancing technologies like AI must not come at the cost of growing inequalities or by leaving vulnerable workers behind without support during inevitable economic and industrial changes.
By proactively investing in education, infrastructure, job creation, worker support, accessibility, fairness and inclusion we can increase opportunities for everyone to contribute to and benefit from AI progress in an equitable manner. But such policies take comprehensive, coordinated efforts involving cooperation between governments, companies, researchers, communities and other stakeholders. If done right, emerging technologies can be harnessed to expand human potential and enhance human wellbeing for all segments of society – not just a few. But it will require vigilance, effort and shared commitment to human-centered values of fairness, empowerment and social justice from those responsible for shaping our AI future.