clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The White House says the U.S. will need a stronger social safety net to help workers displaced by robots

Advances in automation and robotics may one day leave millions of Americans out of work.

BMW-World Opening Johannes Simon / Getty

The White House released a report today warning of a future where artificial intelligence and robotics will take the place of human labor.

Robotics and automation technologies, which are under rapid development, “have the potential to disrupt the current livelihoods of millions of Americans,” the report read.

Millions of jobs lost is no small deal — and in the final days before the nation transitions to a Trump presidency, the Obama administration has a message: The coming wave of labor displacement due to automation will need to be met with “aggressive policy action.”

The White House says the U.S. government needs to work in three key areas to prepare for the next wave of job displacement caused by robotic automation.

  • Fund more research in robotics and artificial intelligence in order for the U.S. to maintain its leadership in the global technology industry. The report calls on the government to steer that research to support a diverse workforce and to focus on combating algorithmic bias in AI.
  • Invest in and increase STEM education for youth and job retraining for adults in technology-related fields. That means offering computer science education for all K-12 students, as well as expanding national workforce retraining by investing six times the current amount spent to keep American workers competitive in a global economy.
  • Modernize and strengthen the federal social safety net, including public health care, unemployment insurance, welfare and food stamps. The report also calls for increasing the minimum wage, paying workers overtime and strengthening unions and worker bargaining power.

Many of these recommendations are discordant with the policies thus far sketched out by President-elect Donald Trump and his picks to hold key cabinet positions in the run-up to the inauguration.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Education, for example, has advocated to steer funding away from public education throughout her career, contrary to today’s White House report, which recommends increasing spending in public education in order to provide more opportunities for computational learning.

Trump’s pick for health and human services chief, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., has long advocated for reducing federal spending on health care. The White House report, on the other hand, recommends strengthening federal health care programs to help protect Americans who may lose jobs due to increased automation.

The kind of policy action the report calls for goes beyond the of détente Trump has achieved thus far with the Carrier deal (Carrier says it plans to automate its factory) and his boasting about the $50 billion SoftBank investment (SoftBank makes robots that can replace human workers), which included phone calls and private meetings to convince companies to create more U.S. jobs.

Rather, the report says the government, meaning the the incoming Trump administration, will have to forge ahead with new policies and grapple with the complexities of existing social services to protect the millions of Americans who face displacement by advances in automation, robotics and artificial intelligence.

The report also calls on the government to keep a close eye on fostering competition in the AI industry, since the companies with the most data will be able to create the most advanced products, effectively preventing new startups from having a chance to even compete.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.