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Nouriel Roubini: Why AI poses a threat to millions of workers

Business sectors ranging from agriculture and manufacturing to automotive and financial services are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence as a means to automate large swaths of their organizations—and, along the way, save enormous sums through improved efficiencies.

But, says ‘Megathreats' Author and NYU Stern School of Business professor Nouriel Roubini, the rise of AI will also have a massively negative impact on workers throughout the economy.

AI has helped revolutionize everything from the smartphones in our pockets to our grocery stores, which use the technology to better predict which items customers want to see on shelves. However, Roubini, whose prediction of the 2008 financial crisis earned him the moniker “Dr. Doom,” says AI poses a threat to millions of workers.

“The downside is that while AI, machine learning, robotics, automation increases the economic pie, potentially, it also leads to losses of jobs and labor income,” Roubini said during an interview at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit.

Take autonomous cars. While they could dramatically reduce the number of car accidents, significantly cutting down on the number of deaths and injuries caused on the nation’s roadways, they’ll also put millions out of work. “You have, what, 5 million Uber and Lyft drivers, 5 million truckers and teamsters, and they’re going to be gone for good,” Roubini said. “And which jobs are they going to get?

CERNOBBIO, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 07:  Nouriel Roubini professor of economics at New York University attends the Ambrosetti International Economic Forum 2019
CERNOBBIO, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 07: Nouriel Roubini professor of economics at New York University attends the Ambrosetti International Economic Forum 2019 "Lo scenario dell'Economia e della Finanza" on September 6, 2019 in Cernobbio, Italy. (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)

Fully autonomous vehicles are still years away from hitting the roads. The majority of the technology that’s currently available is meant to assist drivers rather than actually control vehicles themselves. But automakers have made it clear that they are intent on developing the technology to the point where there’s no need for a driver at all.

But according to Roubini, it’s not just drivers and truckers who might be at risk of losing their jobs. As AI becomes more powerful, it could be used to replace workers in creative fields including the arts.

“Increasingly, even cognitive jobs that can be divided into a number of tasks are also being automated,” Roubini said. “Even creative jobs; there are now AIs that will create a script or a movie, or make a poem, or write...or paint, or even [write] a piece of music that soon enough is going to be top 10 in the Billboard Magazine chart.”

While it might be some time before AI is winning any major awards or art prizes, if ever, it is being used to create digital art. Take the open-source DALL-E, which allows users to type in a series of words and get an image based on millions of photos pulled from the internet.

While artists are unlikely to disappear anytime soon, the fact that AI is racing into once unimaginable sectors of the economy could eventually mean Roubini's prognostications, like some of his others, will prove true.

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Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoofinance.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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