Thursday, May 11, 2017

The "Insert_Next_Technology_Here" Will Steall All of the Jobs Myth

I always gravitate towards these "technology will take all of our jobs and we will need to pay people to exist because robots and AI software bots will have most of the jobs" articles.

Robert J. Samuelson has another very good article on this myth in yesterday's Washington Post titled, "Will robots steal all of jobs?"

He starts off with:

"We have yet another study that debunks the widespread notion that robots — and other forms of automation, including “artificial intelligence” — will destroy our jobs and lead to a future of permanently high unemployment. According to the study, that would completely rewrite history, which has shown job creation to be an enduring strength of the U.S. economy.
The study (”False Alarmism: Technological Disruption and the U.S. Labor Market, 1850-2015”) comes from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a Washington think tank focusing on technology. The study’s greatest virtue is to remind us that past changes have wiped out entire job categories without spawning a high-unemployment society."
He brings up a few examples that show panic over the years that all turn out to be unfounded.
He references an excellent study: 
These points in the Atkinson and Wu article were particularly interesting: 

"Specific occupations usually grow when it is hard to improve worker productivity. Forty years ago, economist William Baumol described what became known as “Baumol’s disease,” where some industries that could not raise productivity (or at least did not raise it as quickly as the rate of economy-wide productivity growth) would become a larger share of the economy, at least in terms of the percentage share of the workforce. A case in point is the education industry and teachers. It still takes one teacher to teach 30 students in elementary school, just as it did 40 years ago. As a result, the total number of elementary- and secondary-school teachers increased by 1.5 million, or 39 percent, from 1980 to 2015, but as a share of all employment hovered at 3 percent over the past three decades.25 

But technology doesn’t just eliminate jobs; it also creates them, although as noted above, normally not as many as it eliminates. If we look at some of the occupations of today that largely didn’t exist 30 years ago (e.g., distance-learning coordinators, green marketers, informatics nurse specialists, nanosystems engineers, and cytotechnologists), we can see this dynamic. These occupations emerged because technological innovation made them possible. There was no need, for example, for informatics nurse specialists when virtually all medical information was on paper. Likewise, why have a distance-learning coordinator when broadband communications were largely nonexistent, or a green marketer when clean tech was a niche product at best? In 2012, there were 466,000 U.S. jobs related to mobile apps, up from zero in 2007. Indeed, if you examine the fastest-growing U.S. industries over the last 15 years, certainly some are due to technological innovation. For example, support activities for oil and gas operations grew by 537 percent, in part to support natural-gas “fracking,” which was in turn enabled by innovations, much of it with U.S. Department of Energy origins.26 Many fast-growing industries are, not surprisingly, in the IT industry, such as Internet publishing, Internet services providers, software, and cellular communications systems. Others—such as biological products and surgical and medical instrument manufacturing—are also spurred by innovation, enabling new products to come to market (but also by globalization, which enables access to larger markets for an industry that the United States still has competitive advantage in)."

The statement by the authors in the above paper that resonates the most with me is:

"Moreover, if we are going to realize the American dream of continuing progress and increasing standards of living, then the last thing we want to do is to constantly stoke people’s unwarranted and unfounded fears that their jobs are on the techno-chopping block."

The question I like to pose to these individuals that "new_insert_new_technology_here" will kill all the jobs is the following: "Imagine that we have Albert Einstein with us at a bar in 1917 and we ask him to predict out 100 years in terms of what type of jobs will be the most sought after? We ask Dr. Einstein to be specific. Do you REALLY think he would be able to list the hot jobs that are around today?"  Of course not.  It is just as silly to expect today's geniuses such as Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and the other prognosticators of doom and gloom to be able to do better than Albert Einstein.

At the end of the Samuelson article he references the following articles:
Read more on this topic:

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