I believe that currently existing narrow AI systems are unlikely to cause technological unemployment. This paper finds that narrow AI can automate individual tasks but not entire jobs; however, it specifically brackets off general AI. I've argued that we should still be worried about mass unemployment from artificial general intelligence (AGI) here.
However, there is a deeper economic argument that automation cannot cause mass technological unemployment, even if AGI is involved. A superintelligence would have an absolute advantage over humans at every task, for by definition, it's better than humans at doing them. However, it would not have a comparative advantage at everything. An agent's comparative advantage is any task they can do at lower cost (including opportunity cost) than everyone else. Since all agents have a comparative advantage at something, humans would still be hired to do the tasks they can perform at lowest cost.
This argument has been made here, but I'll try to elaborate on it. Take the classic parable of Tiger Woods and the lawnmower:
Tiger is a great athlete. One of the best golfers to have every lived. Most likely he is better at other activities too. Tiger is probably in better shape than most: He can run faster, lift more, and work quicker. For example, Tiger can probably mow his lawn faster than anyone else. But just because he can mow his lawn fast, does this mean he should?
To answer this question we can use the concepts of opportunity cost and comparative advantage. Let’s say that Tiger can mow his lawn in 2 hours. In the same two hours he could film a television commercial for golf clubs and earn $100,000. By contrast, Joe, the kid next door can mow Tiger’s lawn in 4 hours. In that same 4 hours he could work at McDonald’s and earn $24.
In this example, Tiger’s opportunity cost is $100,000 and Joe’s is $24. Tiger has an absolute advantage in mowing lawns because he can do the work in less time. Yet Joe has a comparative advantage because he has the lower opportunity cost. The gains in trade from this example are tremendous. Rather than mowing his own lawn, Tiger should make the commercial and hire Joe to mow his lawn. As long as Tiger pays Joe more than $24 and less than $100,000, both of them are better off.
Now substitute Tiger Woods for a superintelligence. Even though the superintelligence can outperform humans at all cognitive tasks, it can't perform all cognitive tasks at lower cost than all humans. If a company with both a superintelligence and human employees tried to assign the superintelligence all of its tasks, the machine would quickly eat up a lot of compute and I/O, and the company would still have to find humans to spend some time training the AI to do them or writing up task descriptions. This could end up costing more money than simply assigning humans to do some of those tasks. Also, by allocating the AI's computational resources to the given task, the company forgoes opportunities to use those resources to beef up the AI's performance on other tasks.
Do you buy this argument? Why or why not?