The growing strength of artificial intelligence threatens millions of jobs, but if regulators stay away, the emerging tech may make society wealthier and more productive.
History has repeatedly shown the same result for other technological advances dating back to the Industrial Revolution, economist Peter St. Onge said.
"Throughout history, we've gone through tremendous technological revolutions. Generally, technologies kill jobs," St. Onge, with the Heritage Foundation, told Fox News Digital. "What happened? Well, you know, we had lots of new jobs. Almost nobody today works on a farm.
"This is sort of the way of the world," he added. The reason why you see technological improvements for any labor-involving function is in order to kill jobs - which is also known as saving work.
St. Onge pointed to the early 1800s, when most people worked on farms, and how the dawn of the mechanization of agriculture killed such employment as farmers turned to machines instead of hiring teams of laborers.
A report from Goldman Sachs last month found that generative AI could replace and affect 300 million jobs around the world. Another study from outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that AI chatbot ChatGPt could replace at least 4.8 million American jobs.
The figures have caused some anxiety, including in fields most likely affected by the technology, such as customer service representatives, technical writers and data entry clerks. However, St. Onge said Americans and businesses alike could prosper with AI - as long as regulations don’t stifle growth.
St. Onge, who has written about machines and technology taking over jobs for years, pointed to how in 1845 French economist Frédéric Bastiat wrote a satire piece on candlemakers protesting sunlight because it was stealing their jobs.
"So the sun comes out in the morning, it steals everybody's job," St. Onge said. "The candlemakers can't sell any candles because the sun is out there giving it away for free. So if we get to that sci-fi utopia where AI does everything better than us then, OK, it's the equivalent of the sunlight given for free."
The economist said he believes it’s "fair" to characterize the advent of artificial intelligence as the modern era being on the verge of its own "Industrial Revolution," and that the only entity that could stand in the way of flourishing AI is regulation.
He said he believes regulations would be a "horrible idea."
"I completely sympathize with those who are afraid of it. And I share their fears," he said. "Fundamentally, the most important question to me in AI is: ‘Who is going to get there first?’ And the most likely candidates are Silicon Valley and the Chinese version of Silicon Valley, which has deep Chinese government influence."
He said that when it comes down to the international AI race, he would much prefer an outcome where U.S. "tech bros" are AI authorities rather than the Communist Chinese government.
In a recent podcast, St. Onge pointed to Detroit when the car industry boomed, but "bureaucratic micromanagement regulations" ultimately left people jobless.
"What if the river of new and better jobs is blocked off like a dam? Well, the jobs dry up, the old ones are gone. The new ones are either poverty level or they don't come at all. This is the Detroit outcome that lost tens of thousands of car jobs, never to be replaced," he said on the podcast.
He told Fox News Digital that politicians are often incentivized to roll out regulations to collect taxes, get a good sound bite or elicit political donations.
"So that's kind of a dangerous dynamic. And where governments stand in the way, they attack the existing producers, the existing companies, and they can often stand in the way of any new companies forming."
What happened in Detroit has likely also spooked Americans today who are concerned about AI taking jobs. Previously, each generation of family was twice as wealthy as their parents, but currently "parents and children are about neck and neck, which is really a tremendous failure of government."
"I think that they look around and then they see that when jobs go away in places like Detroit, they do not come back the next day," he said. "In fact, they don't come back 40 years later. So I think people are right to be concerned, but I think that they're wrong to blame the tech per se.
"Tech is a river that makes us rich," he went on. "The problem is everybody needs to get out of the way. We need to have a respect for the fundamental economic freedoms that we always had."
OpenAI’s chatbot, ChatGPT was released in November and quickly became one of the most popular online platforms, breaking records as the fastest-growing user base with 100 million monthly active users in January. The chatbot is able to mimic human conversations based on prompts, and can execute various tasks such as writing short stories, composing emails, answering questions and even coming up with recipes.
After ChatGPT’s initial release and various updates, thousands of tech leaders, experts and others signed an open letter calling on all AI labs working on tech more powerful than ChatGPT to pause for at least six months to roll out safety regulations.
Twitter and Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak were among the signatories who warned that such computer intelligence "can pose profound risks to society and humanity."
Despite the calls to pause, the AI race to create the most powerful system is in full-swing, with Google working to overhaul its search engine and even create a new that relies on AI, and even Musk working on a ChatGPT alternative that would serve as a "maximum truth-seeking AI."