AI, the Economy, Mental Health, and Opioids

In the last year, we’ve heard a lot about the opioid epidemic and where it is hitting hard. While no group is immune from the problem, the data is showing correlation between opioid addiction and unemployment. A study issued February 2017 this year from the National Bureau of Economic Research goes over the study in detail. The Atlantic references this study in their article, The Link Between Opioids and Unemployment, from April 2017. The overall consensus is that there are mental health issues to be found where there is economic decline. The pattern we are seeing here is people self-medicating their mental health problems (not new).

This is occurring at a critical juncture where there is an attempt to gut health care and we are seeing the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) creating value in the economy. VP of Engineering at eBay recently said, “If you’re not doing AI today, don’t expect to be around in a few years,” in VentureBeat. In a few years, we could see many companies go under or reduce in size if they fail to keep up with companies who invested in AI in the present. Even tech companies we once thought were the darlings of Silicon Valley will suffer if they don’t have a plan. These are some of the job losses the gloom and doom “AI is going to take your job” articles have been talking about. While AI is poised to create many more new jobs, in the immediate future, those jobs will likely stay around the current tech hubs. We aren’t really sure how how economies that may consume AI, but aren’t building it, will fare in the immediate future. Or, what will happen to economic classes that traditionally work in service jobs in tech hubs if we increasingly see AI take over those roles (self-driving cars anyone?)? We’re seeing that increasingly, much of this new technology is in the hands of the few. This means many communities without access to these technologies will be left behind in this new economy as well. One example of a community that hasn’t kept up with the current economy is coal country: the heart of the opioid epidemic. There is potential that communities that begin to fall behind economically in the next few years due to the coming changes related to AI will be ravaged by the same fate as coal country. This could have a big impact on rural and minority communities that are already neglected by the current system.

Opioid epipedimic + lack of access to affordable health care + an economy that is about to shift due to AI = expanded opioid crisis. Potentially the opioid health crisis is about to get worse before it gets better. Even worse, I don’t see anything slowing it down or stopping it within the next 4 years. Our best hope is local and state governements find successful ways of addressing the problem in their own areas, but with science and health care budgets in question at a federal level, we lack the resources to support the revitalization and healing of these communities.

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