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Bill Wilkerson is the Executive Chairman of Mental Health International, Industry Professor of International Mental Health at McMaster University and author of a new report, Mental Health in the Era of Artificial Intelligence.

Artificial intelligence represents a clear and present danger to the livelihood and health of hundreds of millions of working people and their families.

The revolution in artificial intelligence threatens to displace and replace human beings in whole jobs and specific tasks on an unprecedented scale. Even the most informed proponents of artificial intelligence worry about this.

Dr. Alan Bernstein, chief executive officer of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), says that artificial intelligence will challenge our cherished views of what it means to be human. It will certainly challenge our sense of economic security. The World Economic Forum forecasts that individuals in some 375 million jobs will be rotated out of those jobs. According to consulting giant McKinsey, 60 to 90 per cent of all jobs now in place will be affected by artificial intelligence.

Unless employers and governments prepare for this revolution by retraining workers, creating replacement jobs that demand distinctly human traits and forging new education and career models, social unrest and alienation will intensify in a world already fractured by income inequality.

If artificial intelligence feeds human mental unrest, disquiet and disorder, then it will damage society. If the sole driving purpose of artificial intelligence is to displace employees to cut costs, then it will not only cheapen the cost of producing goods and services, it will cheapen our way of life.

artificial intelligence has the potential be a super-powered cause of dangerous, deep stress with the capacity to produce rumination that, in turn, predicts depression. Deep stress is at the root of severe frustration, fear, anger and uncertainty. These can threaten one’s sense of personal identity and self-awareness.

Self-awareness is not a bland psychological concept. It is, in fact, everything. It is our understanding of who we are and what we are here to do, it is the source of our congruence with the world around us.

Deep, chronic stress can move us toward self-destruction. Just as cancer is a malignant growth, depression – in the words of author Lewis Wolpen – is malignant darkness. It is also the trigger of 90 per cent of suicides, now the leading cause of violent death. Guns kill more Americans through suicide than homicide.

In late 2018, according to the Economist, suicides in the United States rose sharply by 18 per cent from 2000 to 2017 – though globally, suicide declined by nearly 29 per cent, saving nearly three million lives.

Across the world, 50 per cent of human beings are symptomatic of mental illness at some point in their lives – 20 per cent in any given year. And these humans are the faces of the troubled, turbulent times in which the effects of artificial intelligence will be felt.

On a more promising note, just as artificial intelligence may increase the burden of mental illness, technologies are being developed to help us better manage depression and anxiety disorders – and even to prevent suicide.

Artificial intelligence is being developed to diagnose and treat schizophrenia more effectively, model psychiatric illness to test new methods of treatment, improve the diagnosis of schizophrenia and improve understanding of autism.

To enhance internal decision-making, the government of Canada has invested heavily in artificial intelligence systems for internal use, introducing a Directive on Automated Decision-Making and an “algorithmic assessment” to spell out ethical responsibilities for the use of artificial intelligence.

The inevitable surfaces, though, when we consider time frames. The probability of artificial intelligence as a source of job loss and worse is imminent. Counter measures are usually long term.

Therefore, my report on mental health in the era of artificial intelligence calls for the “human capitalization” of the artificial intelligence workplace and digital economy to help balance the billion-dollar investments in machines with billion-dollar investments in people to ensure the supremacy of human beings in the artificial intelligence workplace.

Investments in human capital can produce retraining, skills redevelopment and guaranteed adjustment periods of not less than two years at full salary for those whose jobs are lost.

The Brookings Institution calls for the advancement of a constant-learning mindset, giving incumbent workers new skills, fostering employment opportunities that demand uniquely human qualities and focusing artificial intelligence on taking over specific tasks, not whole jobs.

“Almost no occupation will be unaffected by technological change in the artificial intelligence era,” Brookings says, “and some of the most vulnerable jobs will be in office administration, production, transportation and food preparation.”

Humanization of the artificial intelligence workplace should start now with the introduction of workplace protocols or standards − mandated by law, if necessary − to establish the values that will govern entry of artificial intelligence into the workplace, assess the threats to those values and take steps necessary to neutralize those threats.

The artificial intelligence revolution is not just a technology event, it is a human event. Surely, it can be leveraged into a positive and transformative new-job and new-career experience for the people who otherwise are written off as short-term pain.

Royal Commissions have often cut a path through ambiguity, doubt and complexity to help shape Canada’s destiny in trade, culture and language and the law. As the artificial intelligence revolution descends, a look into the more distant future is also called for. Perhaps it should be through a Royal Commission on the prospects for human dignity, development and health in the 21st century.

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