We’ve previously discussed how 21st century technological breakthroughs might alter the future of work in the Unit4ed States. In November 2013 I had us devote an evening to the “Secular Stagnation” theory. This is the idea that we are entering a long (multi-decade)period of slower economic growth, flat wages and stalled prosperity.
The Great Stagnation, it is alleged, will be caused in part because the next few decades are unlikely to witness any truly transformative technological breakthroughs. The big, basic technological innovations that powered us into the modern world, like the railroad and telephone, are behind us now this theory says. And, sometimes in human history decades can go by between major leaps in technology.
This week, we’re going to look at kind of the opposite argument, and its possible downside. What if artificial intelligence and other automation technologies finally reach the stage where they can replace a huge share of the jobs people now hold? What if robots come to replace human workers on a very large scale, and not just for low-skilled, repetitive tasks, but thinking and problem solving jobs? What will our kids do for a living and how will it transform society?
- What is the evidence that the “New Machine Age is dawning? Is it looming, or bunk?
- Who will it dawn for? Which industries and which jobs?
- Who will be made better off and worse off? What are the trade-offs?
- Can/should anything be done to hasten or prevent this transformation?
- If it comes, what kind of government policies will be appropriate? Libertarian policies (see links) or more social insurance and government support for workers?
- History: What can we learn from past instances of revolutionary labor-saving technology? Please answer without using the word Luddite.
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- Our 2013 meeting on the “Great Stagnation.” Links included Krugman on the basic concept + this much more detailed explanation. It was about much more than slowing technological innovation.
The Robots are coming –
- Machines soon will take many more of our jobs – and maybe be a Libertarian’s dream come true. A must-read.
- Another optimistic view (Wired Magazine).
- Robots are not the problem. Bad (conservative) public policies are. Recommended.
- Yeah, they are. But, on the bright side, maybe we’ll start protecting American jobs when robots start replacing highly-paid white collar jobs, since even most elites would recoil from a libertarian “paradise.” Recommended.
Next Week: The Causes and Sociology of Modern Wars.