When people talk about the effects of automation and artificial intelligence on the economy, they often fixate on the quantity of human workers. Will robots take our jobs? Others focus instead on threats to the quality of employment—the replacement of middle-class occupations with lower-skill, lower-wage ones; the steady elimination of human discretion as algorithms order around warehouse pickers, ride-hailing drivers, and other workers.
What’s less understood is that artificial intelligence will transform higher-skill positions, too—in ways that demand more human judgment rather than less. And that could be a problem. As AI gets better at performing the routine tasks traditionally done by humans, only the hardest ones will be left for us to do. But wrestling with only difficult decisions all day long is stressful and unpleasant. Being able to make at least some easy calls, such as allowing Santorini onto Kickstarter, can be deeply satisfying.
“Decision making is very cognitively draining,” the author and former clinical psychologist Alice Boyes told me via email, “so it’s nice to have some tasks that provide a sense of accomplishment but just require getting it done and repeating what you know, rather than everything needing very taxing novel decision making.”