How A.I. will exacerbate inequality between rich & poor: Kai-Fu Lee

Sinovation Ventures CEO Kai-Fu Lee joins 'Influencers with Andy Serwer' to forecast the implications of artificial intelligence and its impact on the labor market.

Video transcript

ANDY SERWER: I want to ask you a little bit about economic implications, Kai-Fu, because you said that AI will lead to a world in which some tycoons will make a lot of money while jobs will be lost. Why could AI exacerbate wealth inequality? And what can we do about that?

KAI-FU LEE: Yes, we can just already see all the internet companies. I think, without AI, they'd probably be only worth half of what they're worth because AI has helped them monetize. And that will extend into other industries.

So the tycoons, they will be more numerous. And they will be even richer and richer. At the same time, because AI is developing human intelligence equivalents, and that means AI can do many of the tasks and jobs that we do today. And in particular, AI will first do jobs that are routine, so white collar jobs like telemarketing and customer service and people who copy and paste and file expense reports, desk jobs. Those will be gone first because AI can do them just in software. You don't even need robotics.

And then a blue collar work, visual inspection, assembly line work, many waiters and waitresses, and many of the jobs in factories and warehouses, the pickers at Amazon, the cashiers at the grocery store, and of course, in about 15, 20 years, all the drivers, all the people who drive for a living.

So when you add all that up, it's a substantial number of jobs. And when it's simultaneously making a small number of people ultra-rich and making many people jobless, that is the wealth inequality problem that AI will exacerbate.

ANDY SERWER: It sounds like the only jobs left are going to be the people who program and code AI. I mean, I know that's an exaggeration. But is it probably the case that AI will be a net job killer, or would it possibly be a net job creator?

KAI-FU LEE: I think ultimately, it will be a net job creator, as every technology has been. But I think the next 20 years, it will take away more jobs than it creates. But over time, it will create many jobs.

Think about the internet, right? It's created many jobs that we did not think it would. 20 years ago, none of us could have predicted Uber drivers would be an interesting new and sizable profession. And AI will do similar things.

Also, there are many things that AI cannot do in 20 years or maybe even longer. It won't have creativity. When I say that it has human level intelligence, I meant for simple, routine, one-domain-at-a-time things like driving, like answering a call. It does not have the general analytical, creative capabilities that we have, nor does AI have any self-awareness, emotion, compassion, empathy, or the ability to win trust from other people.

So there will be also many service type of jobs that has to do with human connection and trust, for example, health care services, that I think will see more jobs emerging. So ultimately, I think we'll figure this out. There will be new professions created. There will be more creative and service-level jobs. But there will be a challenging period in which job destruction is larger than job creation.