Will artificial intelligence be good for Utah? One business expert says yes

Oct 30, 2023, 1:30 PM | Updated: 1:42 pm

Natalie Gochnour says that artificial intelligence could be promising for Utah....

Natalie Gochnour, associate dean at the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business, speaks during a KSL-TV roundtable discussion on the community’s response and preparedness for the coronavirus at the Triad Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 5, 2020. (Deseret News file photo)

(Deseret News file photo)

SALT LAKE CITY — There is no shortage of doomsday predictions about artificial intelligence, and there’s definitely no shortage of interest in the topic here in Utah. 

How Utahns see artificial intelligence

While Elon Musk warns he believes AI will surpass human intelligence and become a threat to humanity, Natalie Gochnour, the associate dean at the David Eccles School of Business and director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, doesn’t agree.

“My experience with technological advancement is it takes away jobs in one place but creates jobs in another,” said Gochnour. “Let’s be clear, AI will change our world, and one of the impacts will be change in the labor market.”

She says, initially artificial intelligence will affect employment that has repetitive tasks.

“It will be in areas where machine learning models can replicate what humans are doing,” Gochnour said. “Some people think accounting will have a lot of AI job losses.”

Is artificial intelligence a threat to Utah?

“I am more than anything… positive about AI,” Gochnour said. “I think it has to be done responsibly.”

Gochnour emphasized that Utah is an innovative state, a tech-savvy state.

“I think by and large AI will be good for Utah.”

The University of Utah just announced a $100 million investment in AI. Gochnour says she is looking for Utah to be a leader in this important technology moving forward.

Who gets the money?

So, where do the gains go from the increased productivity and efficiency brought on by AI? Do they go to the company’s bottom line that employs AI or should they be shared in some way?

“The way an economist views productivity and efficiency is the size of the pie gets bigger,” Gochnour said. “The economy enlarges.”

Gochnour doesn’t think we should fear innovation.

“Innovation is our friend,” she said. “I just think we need to guide it.”

Will the need to work disappear?

Some have suggested that AI will remove the need to work.

“In some ways, it’s a wonderful thought — that we could work less,” Gochnour said. “We could use leisure time to do other things, even if it’s continuous learning. Imagine if we put in fewer hours in labor and could spend more time reading books or participating in the arts or having an advocation that we love.”

This is why Gochnour believes we shouldn’t fear innovation.

“But we must be mindful as the pie gets bigger, it also gets divided differently,” Gochnour said. “I’m worried there will be some winners and losers.”

Universal basic income

If we get so productive we don’t need to work as much or don’t need as many workers, how will we earn a living? Where will the money come from? Is this pointing to universal basic income?

Gochnour defined universal basic income as unconditional cash payments to people.

“It’s viewed as a floor to stand on for a society that has a lot going on,” Gochnour said. “I think AI will bring more and more policy discussions about universal basic income, but that won’t solve the problems with universal basic income,” she said. “It’s extremely expensive, and the notion of giving the same income to wealthy people as to poor people — there are some equitable challenges to that.”

Our public policy will need to evolve and change as technology evolves and changes. 

“Maybe the rule of thumb is ‘Buckle up!’,” said Gochnour. “Change is a given, and we’ve got to get good at it.”

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Will artificial intelligence be good for Utah? One business expert says yes