Artificial Intelligence is poised to upend work around the world over the coming decades. Whether this lessens or increases inequality remains to be seen. AI technology is relatively new, but the impacts of previous high-impact innovations like the power loom, steam engines, electricity, and digital computers shed ample light on what could happen next. The consequences of any technology depend on who gets to make pivotal decisions about how the technology develops.

Too many commentators see the path of technology as inevitable. But the historical record is clear: technologies develop according to the vision and choices of those in positions of power. As we document in Power and Progress: Our 1,000-Year Struggle over Technology and Prosperity, when these choices are left entirely in the hands of a small elite, you should expect that group to receive most of the benefits, while everyone else bears the costs—potentially for a long time.

But there are still two distinct paths that this AI revolution could take. One is the path of automation, based on the idea that AI’s role is to perform tasks as well as or better than people. Currently, this vision dominates in the US tech sector, where Microsoft and Google (and their ecosystems) are cranking hard to create new AI applications that can take over as many human tasks as possible.

There is a second, very different path available to us, however. This path would focus on creating new tasks and capabilities for humans, rather than sidelining them.

Alas, this more hopeful path is not where we are heading. Three big social changes would be necessary for such a path, and each one of them is a tall order.

First, management needs to see and understand workers as a key resource whose productivity should be augmented, whose information should be improved, and whose training should be a priority.

Second, the tech sector needs to prioritize helping workers, rather than focusing on tools of automation and surveillance.

Third, labor needs to have a voice in how technologies are used. This voice is critical not only for resisting excessive emphasis on labor cost-cutting and automation. It is also essential because workers typically know which parts of their jobs would benefit from automation and which would not.

Read the full article about Artificial intelligence and labor by Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson at Stanford Social Innovation Review.