AI and the “Useless Class”

When we meet someone, the first two questions we ask are most likely to be: “What is your name? What do you do?” What we do gives a meaning to our lives. What we do in our society gives us a sense of feeling that we are a part of that society and somehow play a role in its existence and development. What if we did not have anything to do that was important to the functioning of our system?

The Global Risks Report 2020, presented recently at Davos2020, was for some reasons a little shy when it came to explicitly talking about the risks associated with Artificial Intelligence and other advancements in technology. It is extremely important to put forth that the said risks are specific to transient period i.e. until ANI becomes AGI. The fear of risks should not come in way of realising the potential that AI holds for the humanity.  The report (here) however categorically mentions that international community, systemically, is not well equipped to deal with the challenges posed by AI.  Not over emphasising the challenges might be a good indicator of the fact that international community is invested in shaping the AI future without getting distracted by the risks entailed therein. One of the risks, though not mentioned in the report, that we are going to discuss in this post is the creations of “useless class”.

Noah Yuval Harari, time and again, in recent years, has pointed out that AI will create useless class, in the context of our economic and political system. According to him, if am not wrong, useless class of those people who cannot keep up with the advancing technology in the domain of employment and thus, “fail in their struggle against irrelevance”. Even if someone wants to re-skill in order to be relevant in and absorbed by the evolving job market, it is almost impossible if we imagine a scenario in which the rate at which the technology disruption is taking place is way faster than one can keep up with. Hence, a lot of people are going to be rendered useless. 

Also, the problem has been escalated by the flawed economic system that we have today. There is no social or economic security and a greater number of people are being thrown into the class that Prof. Guy Standing has tried to enlighten us about in his book The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (here).

Also, as I have already mentioned in one of my earlier posts (here), increasing number of people are finding their jobs are useless, pointless and meaningless (other references here, here, here, here, here, herehere and here).

Though the problems highlighted by Prof. Harari and Prof. Standing are essentially linked to what Prof. Graeber postulates, the former have economic connotations. Not being able to find a job or not being able to equip oneself to match the advanced technology for the jobs that will exist in future will render human beings useless. Until we come up with an economic system to make sure that the useless class has access to sufficient resources in order to actively participate in the contemporary economy system, the consequences will be unprecedented. Not only will it push the useless class into the abyss of poverty and worsening social and physical and mental health conditions, the people that will be thrown outside the economic system will become a threat to the system. The whole system will be on the verge of collapse. 

Also, in the wake of rapid technological advancement, it seems that problem of meaningless jobs, written extensively about by Prof. David Graeber (here), will be the most difficult one to deal with. The reason is obvious; technology will, in near or remote future, take away most of the jobs or all the jobs (I imagine the latter) and people will have hard time finding meaning in their live. Even if new jobs are taken, the quality of those jobs will not afford any meaning to the lives of those who hold those jobs. Thus, people will have to resort to other avenues in order to feel that they are relevant in the society. What those avenues could be?

First, the useless class has to be given an alternative so that they do not feel discarded by the system. It would be a different thing if the system changed and being useless became order of the day. This is likely to the case. However, if the economic system does not change for long, the discussions on universal basic income and job guarantee should pick up. But, in the end, it will all be a desperate attempt to calm down the people who are raged at the incompetency of the system; and, thus, the useless class will just be a burden on the system that is incapable of coping up with technological advancement.

Secondly, a more intrinsic approach, the useless class ought to be prepared and imparted skills to in order to cope with what lies ahead. A substantial portion of national budget and organisation’s pocket should be apportioned to imparting knowledge and education to citizens and employees in order to make sure that they are able to take and adjust to upheaval caused by technology disruptions.

Thirdly, the current education system should be radically reformed so that the coming generation is skilled in what is required in future and not for the jobs that are going to become obsolete in near future. Some kind of comprehensiveness ought to be given to such education and training because it will facilitate easy job-oriented transition, if need be.

Fourthly, government policies should encourage and provide incentive to the current and the coming generations to invest time and resources in upgrading their skills in order to compete with AI system in the future job market.

Fifthly, social value allocation system should undergo cultural revolution and value placed in conventional jobs and success parameters should shift to those that are going to be relevant in the future. 

Sixthly, democratisation of everything is perhaps one of the most important promises of AI. People should be made available every intellectual resource at the disposal of any natural or legal person. This will help in further development of AI and scaling it to the level where it becomes an epitome of an inclusive progress. Material resources should follow any intellectual breakthrough, for intellectual advancement can be capitalised upon only if there are material resources to back it up with. 

Seventhly, use of institutionalised mechanisms of physical and behavioural control and regulations ought to be used with caution and less emphasis. More liberty and freedom should be encouraged in the domain of expression. People should be able to vent out their angst against the evolving system. However, the same has to be done is a peaceful and constructive manner. Also, it would be a good idea if avenues to transition onto the side of technology are made freely and readily available to the public. Barriers to the same will further aggravate the hurt useless class. 

There are many more ways in which the issue of useless class could be deliberated over. The aforementioned solutions have to be re-considered, for there could be flaws in them. However, it cannot be denied that the challenge is increasingly assuming unprecedented dimensions and scale. 

Paramjeet Singh Berwal

Paramjeet, a lawyer, an invited lecturer, and AI research and policy consultant, is the Director of the Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Technology Law at Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani University, Georgia. He is a Global Panelist with MIT Technology Review. He is frequently invited to deliver talks and presentations on various topics pertaining to AI. His research includes how AI will influence human existence, especially in the context of economy, work, law, society and its institutions, business management, social behaviour and policy making. He may be contacted at

Leave a Reply