Saturday, May 18, 2013

Robots are coming for our jobs

The idea of robots taking our jobs, which bloggers like Chad/escapefromwisconsin at The Hipcrime Vocab and Stuart Saniford at Early Warning have been writing about for years, has popped its head up in mainstream science reporting.  While Chad and Stuart have been pessimistic about the prospects, Discovery News on YouTube takes a more optimistic view in Robots Are Stealing Your Job.

Robots are awesome, but beware: they're after your jobs! Trace looks at the work robots are doing today, that once required a human touch.
I don't think either Chad or Stuart would be so comfortable with the situation.  Instead, they might agree more with Seth Fletcher of Scientific American.

Yes, Robots Are Coming for Our Jobs—Now What?
M.I.T. economist Erik Brynjolfsson explains how technology has affected economic growth and productivity, and how human workers can adapt
Fifteen years ago Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in a game of chess, marking the beginning of what Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Erik Brynjolfsson calls the new machine age—an era driven by exponential growth in computing power. Lately, though, people have been feeling uneasy about the machine age. Pundits and experts seem to agree that the robots are definitely taking our jobs. At last week’s TED conference, Brynjolfsson argued that the new machine age is great for economic growth, but we still have to find a way to coexist with the machines. We asked him to expand on a few points.
Throughout most of modern history, productivity and employment have grown side by side. But starting about 15 years ago they started becoming decoupled. Productivity continued to grow, even accelerate, but employment stagnated and even fell, as did median wages for the people who were still working. This was an important milestone, because most economists, including me, used to be of the mind-set that if you just keep increasing productivity, everything else kind of takes care of itself.

But there’s no economic law that says everyone has to benefit equally from increased productivity. It’s entirely possible that some people benefit a lot more than others or that some people are made worse off. And as it turns out, for the past 10 to 15 years it’s gone that way. The pie has gotten bigger but most of the increase in income has gone to less than 1 percent of the population. Those at the 50th percentile or lower have actually done worse in absolute terms.
Chad at The Hipcrime Vocab came to the same conclusion beginning very early in his examination of robots and automation, beginning with What Are People Good For?  As for Stuart, he thinks the loss of jobs to robots will be the major effect of the Singularity, not everyone becoming cyborgs or the machines enslaving or killing off humanity.  Just the same, this is yet another piece of evidence demonstrating that we live in science fiction times.

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