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The Top Priority for AI Policy: Keep Humans at the Center

January 31, 2024

At a Glance

AI policy must be developed in a way that equitably centers human voices, human experiences, and human possibilities.

Alex Swartsel Managing Director
Practices & Centers

Late last year, the Biden administration issued its long-awaited executive order on artificial intelligence (AI), which offers sweeping directives on everything from privacy to national security. The order shows a deep understanding of the moral and ethical imperative to ensure that AI does not harm individuals, while also recognizing the need to ensure all people reap the benefits of the transformative technology.  

In our own research in collaboration with Intel, “The AI-Ready Workforce,” we reviewed labor market and skills data for 50 jobs across key industries for U.S. competitiveness and found that durable human skills, including critical thinking, complex communication, strategic planning, conflict resolution, and people management—skills that AI can augment, but not fully replace—will be most important for the future.   

As policymakers respond to the Biden administration’s big picture efforts, they must stay focused on human potential and the uniquely human skillsets we bring. They must: 

Deeply understand the impact of AI on skills to better support workers 

The Biden executive order called for some important steps to prepare for AI’s impact on the workforce writ large, such as analyzing labor markets. These analyses must go deeper than the industries themselves to evaluate the specific skills needed for the myriad occupations within each industry. They should also focus on the impacts on occupations that offer opportunities for economic mobility to workers facing barriers to advancement today.  

Working together, employers and policymakers can incentivize cross-industry collaborations and public-private partnerships on AI-workforce development. Small shifts now in the way we work and learn will pay off in the future. For example, labor-market analyses should be conducted on an ongoing basis, not just once, to drill into potential disparate impacts of AI across occupations. So, policymakers should invest in labor market data systems that enable near-real-time assessment of how AI is changing the demand for various skills. 

Support workers who will be most impacted by skills and job shifts due to AI 

Policymakers and industry leaders must build the necessary foundations to implement AI equitably. That begins with ensuring broad access to computing power and AI tools, as well as workforce and sector-based training for the industries and occupations most likely to be impacted by AI. 

The Biden executive order called for leveraging the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act as well as unemployment insurance to support workers who may be displaced. New policies must take on the challenge of supporting workers through this transition while incentivizing employers and educators to collaborate on building a new paradigm for career pathways and wraparound supports. 

Any effort to prepare workers for this future will need to take into account not only core AI skills, but also the entire array of skills that will be impacted by the use of this technology. We must promote lifelong learning models to ensure institutions of higher education and employers alike are encouraged to continue proactive upskilling and learning opportunities as AI evolves.  

Likewise, we must prioritize access to high-quality, affordable foundational AI literacy and reskilling opportunities for all workers and learners, not just technical talent—broadening access to workforce training and employment services through the Pell program and other established training accounts. 2024 is widely described as the year when AI in the workplace will move from testing to widespread application—meaning that the time to double down on universal AI literacy isn’t just now; it’s yesterday. Meanwhile, training and education providers should be incentivized to adapt curricula to focus on durable human skills whose importance will be elevated by AI. 

Listen directly to workers and learners to shape what they need 

We must ensure that regulations are based on insights and data learned directly from workers and learners about their experiences with AI, its impact on education and jobs, and the wraparound support needed to navigate periods of transition. Legislators and regulators have well-established mechanisms to invite public input into policymaking efforts. A commitment to listening to personal stories and experiences as the technology evolves will be critical; so will collaborating with workers and learners to directly shape policies that affect AI’s impact on their day-to-day lives.  

Both the promise and potential of AI are staggering, and the challenges are very real. It’s time for us to choose how this groundbreaking technology will accelerate equitable economic advancement and positively impact the economy, not hold back human potential. We cannot simply allow AI to happen to us, we must be intentional about how we integrate it into our work and lives.  

Right now, that means developing AI policy in a way that equitably centers human voices, human experiences, and human possibilities.    

Alex Swartsel is managing director at JFFLabs and leads JFF’s Center for AI and the Future of Work. 

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