Rise of the machines

Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future is a book by American futurist Martin Ford. The book discusses the impact accelerating change and artificial intelligence will have on the labor market. His thesis is that there will be great social and economic disruption, as educated workers will no longer be able to find employment; unlike in previous technological revolutions, very few new jobs will be created in the course of the ongoing disruption.

Thesis: While technological advances in the previous century mainly displaced uneducated laborers, the 21st century is seeing technology increasingly threatening skilled workers’ jobs as well. Lawyers, radiologists and software designers have seen their work outsourced to the developing world. Ford believes that unlike previous centuries, the current emerging technologies will fail to generate new forms of employment; he predicts that new industries will “rarely, if ever, be highly labor-intensive”. Companies like YouTube and Instagram are based on “tiny workforces and huge valuations and revenues”. Ford downplays the benefits of expanding education, and argues for a “dramatic policy response” such as a guaranteed basic income. 

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies is a 2014 book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee which is a continuation of their book Race Against the Machine. They argue that the Second Machine Age involves the automation of a lot of cognitive tasks that make humans and software-driven machines substitutes, rather than complements. They contrast this with what they call the “First Machine Age”, or Industrial Revolution, which helped make labor and machines complementary. 

Synopsis: According to the authors, the book has three sections. Chapters 1 through 6 describe “the fundamental characteristics of the second machine age,” based on many examples of modern use of technology. Then chapters 7 through 11 describe economic impacts of technology in terms of two concepts the authors call “bounty” and “spread.” What the authors call “bounty” is their attempt to measure the benefits of new technology in ways reaching beyond such measures as GDP, which they say is inadequate. They use “spread” as a shorthand way to describe the increasing inequality that is also resulting from widespread new technology.

Finally, in chapters 12 through 15, the authors prescribe some policy interventions that could enhance the benefits and reduce the harm of new technologies. [Via: wikipedia]

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