Will superintelligence make a large part of humanity unemployable?

Let’s first ignore superintelligence and consider the case of AIs that are merely perfect replacements for all human labor.

Many economists dismiss the claim that automation can cause general unemployment, and will often criticize the “lump of labor” fallacy, which is the idea that there is a finite number of jobs in the world, which automation will slowly winnow away. They note that though automation has caused unemployment in particular sectors, increased efficiency has freed up resources which can be used to employ more humans in those areas where machines cannot yet replace their labor. Historically, this has more than made up for the jobs that were eliminated.

However, AI is different from other sorts of automation in that its applications are more general. If we consider these AIs perfect replacements for human labor then standard labor models predict human wages will decline until they are competitive with the cost of running an AI. If this cost is below subsistence, then this will cause unemployment. However, in scenarios where some humans still have capital, they may prefer human workers for signaling or other reasons even if AIs are better and cheaper.

Now that we’ve talked about perfect replacements for human labor, we can talk about superintelligence. A superintelligence could quickly acquire superior material power to that held by any human or collection of humans. At that point, thinking in terms of employment is likely beside the point. The post-superintelligence world will reflect the preferences of the AI/AIs. If it prefers that humans exist, we will. If it prefers that we have jobs, we will. This depends on what the superintelligence in question wants to happen. If AIs want humans to continue being employable, they’ll act to ensure humans remain employable by setting up roles that only biological humans can fill, artificially perpetuating the need for employing humans.