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A Proposal for a Decade Devoted to Effective Policy Implementation Research and Practice

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Bill Brantley
January 17, 2017

Between 9 and 47 percent of jobs will be lost to artificial intelligence in the next 10 years according to experts. Most of these will be low-skilled and repetitive jobs but a significant portion could also be high-skilled and high-paying jobs which require skills such as financial planning and medical diagnosis. To put those figures in perspective, the unemployment rate during the 2008-2010 Great Recession was 10 percent while the unemployment rate during the 1930s Great Depression was 25 percent.

However, many economists believe the potential job losses will be offset by new jobs created in responAboutBIPP580pxse to increasing artificial intelligence automation. According to a pair of reports released by the White House’s National Science and Technology Council’s Committee of Technology, the Federal government will play a vital role in helping the American workforce move to a heavily-automated economy. The first report, “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence”, discusses the broad impact of artificial intelligence. According to the consensus of experts, artificial intelligence systems will not equal, much less exceed, the general level of human intelligence. Instead, specialized artificial intelligence will exceed human performance on many specialized tasks (such as medical diagnoses).

The second report was a follow-up to the first report. “Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy” focused on preparing the American economy for five primary economic effects:

  • “Positive contributions to aggregate productivity growth;
  • Changes in the skills demanded by the job market, including greater demand for higher-level technical skills;
  • Uneven distribution of impact, across sectors, wage levels, education levels, job types, and locations;
  • Churning of the job market as some jobs disappear while others are created; and
  • The loss of jobs for some workers in the short-run, and possibly longer depending on policy responses.”

As the report authors admit, the magnitude of the five events is hard to determine. The economy could absorb the economic effects and mitigate the damage to the workforce. Alternatively, the economic effects could produce a large shock requiring emergency government intervention such as the stimulus policies championed by President Obama when he first took office. Other factors, such as technological changes, climate change and increasing globalization, could also interact with increasing artificial intelligence automation to magnify the economic disruption. Policymakers just do not know the final economic impacts of increasing artificial intelligence automation.

The report suggests three broad strategies: “invest and develop artificial intelligence for its many benefits;” “educate and train Americans for jobs of the future;” and “aid workers in the transition and empower workers to ensure broadly shared growth.” It is the last two strategies I will focus on because public policy academics and practitioners can play an important role in advising the Federal government in implementing the strategies.

Lessons from Pressman’s Implementation

A book with a profound influence on my thinking about public policy was Jeffrey Pressman’s Implementation. Pressman’s case study of how the Economic Development Administration spent millions of dollars to convince an ever-increasing number of participants to help create employment opportunities is a classic example of the disconnect between policy goals and implementing the policy goals.  As Pressman found, the increasing number of stakeholders directly increased the number of steps in implementing a works program for Oakland, California. Along with the growing number of stakeholders and process steps, the risks of failing also increased. Even if each process step had a 95% chance of succeeding, the cumulative chance of success is less than 50%.

Educating and training Americans for future jobs while helping workers to transition the effects of increasing artificial intelligence automation is a much more ambitious goal than the Economic Development Administration’s Oakland Project. One advantage is public policy scholars and practitioners have learned much more about how to implement public policies since the 1960s. Implementing nationwide public policies to help prepare American workers to thrive in the coming artificial intelligence-dominated economy can be a great opportunity for the public policy academic community to work with practitioners for mutual success.

The Decade of Policy Implementation Research and Practice

My modest proposal to establish 2017 to 2027 as the decade of renewed policy implementation research and practice. As governments digitally transform themselves, as new program and project management methods are used and as new technologies arise and mature, the need to effectively and efficiently implement policy strategies is never more needed than now. Even if the impact of artificial intelligence automation is mostly negligible, implementing new workforce development policies will be a major boon to the U.S. economy. If the shock to the American economy is as dire as some experts predict, effective policy interventions will not only help the American public, but also increase trust and confidence in the government. Effective policymaking and implementation is one area that cannot be replaced by artificial intelligence automation.

Author: Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Maryland (College Park) and the University of Louisville. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of his employers. You can reach him at http://billbrantley.com.

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