The Vanishing Middle: From the Living Rooms of the ’70s to the AI Epoch

The Big GoodArtificial IntelligenceThe Vanishing Middle: From the Living Rooms of the ’70s to the AI Epoch
October 10 , 2023 / Posted by Katie Smith / Artificial Intelligence /

The Vanishing Middle: From the Living Rooms of the ’70s to the AI Epoch

Originally posted on LinkedIn on October 4th, 2023. 


In the twilight hues of the ’70s, as the evening news chronicled the economic downturn, the hushed murmurs in our household painted a starker picture. I was a child, not quite comprehending the full breadth of the term “stagflation,” but acutely aware of its implications on our middle-class dreams. On most days, our living room bore witness to two contrasting aromas: the pungent waft of fast food wrappers, which my mother occasionally brought home after a long day at work, and the unmistakable scent of TV dinners, heating up one by one in the microwave. A night out at Denny’s was a treat when my Grandfather was in town or some other restaurant when it was someone’s birthday. Our best meals came when the family came together for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

The first was a reminder of my family’s efforts to provide for us, to make life feel a tad bit normal amidst the financial turbulence. The latter, a tangible manifestation of the crisis, of times when funds ran low and convenient, cost-effective meals were a refuge.

These memories have never been about mere meals but a commentary on an era. Much like ours, it was an era where many dreams were caught in the vice grip of high inflation and cultural and technological change.

Flash forward to today, and the challenges have mutated. As AI algorithms dictate market dynamics and reshape industries, the middle class faces another monumental challenge. From an economy tethered by stagflation to an age threatened by unbridled technological advancements, the core sentiment remains the erosion of the middle-class dream.

Lauded for its transformative power across sectors, Artificial Intelligence casts a long shadow of challenges, especially for the middle class. As AI solutions become integral to industries, the potential displacement of jobs is real. And if unchecked, AI could further alienate the middle class, echoing the sentiments of the ’70s but in a more profound, irreversible manner.

While AI’s promise of revolutionizing fields like healthcare, finance, and education is undeniable, its unchecked progression threatens to accentuate socio-economic and racial divides. As machines get smarter, the essence of middle-class work and its associated dreams stand on precarious ground.

Drawing parallels from the ’70s, the essence is clear: periods of significant change, be it due to economic factors then or technological ones now, demand proactive, empathetic governance.

Regulatory frameworks must be shaped not just by technological feasibility but by an undercurrent of empathy and understanding of the real-world implications on households reminiscent of mine alongside the dreams we all have to improve conditions for our communities.

To ensure the promises of AI are realized without exacerbating the chasm of inequality or halting equitable progress, a lesson from the past is clear: the need for regulations embedded in empathy. Only through such a lens can we ensure AI, in its race forward, doesn’t leave behind the beating heart of society – the middle class and the dream of all our people.

As I reflect on my childhood, overheard conversations, the scents of quick meals, and the palpable tension, the ethos of that time must guide our trajectory in this AI epoch.

The dream of the middle class, which seemed elusive during the stagflation era, must be safeguarded and nurtured. It’s not merely about economic growth but the very fabric of society. Just as my family navigated the turbulent waters starting in the ’70s, the collective middle class now stands at a pivotal juncture, seeking to chart a course through the AI revolution in harmony with our moral compass.

As conversations about AI dominate boardrooms and policy meetings, let them also resonate in the living rooms of regular households. After all, the future of AI is as much about algorithms and neural networks as it is about families like mine, hoping, once again, to keep their dreams alive.

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