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Posts Tagged ‘The Uncertain Future Of Work’

The American middle class is shrinking and it’s technology that’s causing it.
Unfortunately for today’s average worker, finding or inventing a new job is harder than it once was.  When economists look back, they see that it was around 1999 when something changed.  Productivity kept going up, but where in the past median household income and employment per capita would have also hitched along, they instead diverged.  Median household income is on a steep decline, employment isn’t bouncing back strongly after the Great Recession, and a greater percentage of Americans now identify themselves as “lower class” than at any point in history.
The trouble is that the guy who once rode along in the pickup truck is now unemployed and he doesn’t know how to design drones or code 3-D modeling software.  The average American is looking more and more like that guy.  A study by two researchers at the Oxford Martin School concludes that within the next 20 years or so, approximately 47 percent of all jobs could be replaced by automation.
“Technology is racing ahead, but our skills, our organizations, our institutions aren’t keeping up,” Brynjolfsson said.  “As they adjust, we will see more of the benefit show up in the economics, but right now there are a lot of technologies with more potential than has been fully realized.”  This trend is just getting started.
In addition, decoupling means the upper 1 percent gets a bigger piece of a growing pie, Brynjolfsson said, which also accounts for the shrinking middle class.  “A lot of these digital technologies have winner-take-all or winner-take-most economics, where you can get a small group of people producing a better piece of software or insight, and once they’ve digitized that, they can replicate it 10 times or a hundred million times, and dominate the market for that,” he said.
“Look at our health-care policy, look at our retirement policy,” he said.  “Those policies are built on this assumption that people have 9-to-5 jobs and stay with one employer their whole lives.  That’s profoundly not true for the American workforce and hasn’t been true for well over a decade.  A third of American workers are self-employed and another third are contingently employed, which means only about a third of the workforce has a traditional 9-to-5 job.  Yet our policymakers and our politicians are building all the policy on the assumption that this is a good way to do it.”
People must demand that their leaders be technologically literate, Mele said, because “it’s profoundly dangerous to have elected officials or policymakers who don’t have any technical literacy to evaluate what’s going on.”  A recent Gartner report identified that 60 percent of CEOs dismiss the idea that automated and smart technologies could displace a huge percentage of jobs in the next 15 years.
“I think we’re hitting the knee of the curve and things are getting exponential,” Armstrong said.  “Make sure that you understand and your leadership understands what is happening in these areas and what the implications are because that’s going to drive social policy and government policy to a huge degree.  A lot of this stuff is happening very quietly.
“Government has been shrinking for so long, that’s been an accepted way of doing business.  I think this is not going to leave anyone alone.  One way or another, it’s going to affect us all,” he said. “In any kind of revolution, we always lose jobs, but there’s always been something to replace all those jobs, and that may not be the case this time.”
  —  Colin Wood
These excerpts are taken from the article titled: “Robots, Drones and The Uncertain Future Of Work” appearing in the magazine “Government Technology“, April 2014.
The article can be found online at: http://www.govtech.com/products/Robots-Drones-and-the-Uncertain-Future-of-Work.html
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There’s no economic law that says everyone is going to benefit from technological progress, even if it does make the pie a lot bigger.  So both in terms of theory and evidence, I think there’s a potential to be concerned, and I am concerned.
Technology is racing ahead, but our skills, our organizations, our institutions aren’t keeping up.  As they adjust, we will see more of the benefit show up in the economics, but right now there are a lot of technologies with more potential than has been fully realized.
As you automate and augment a lot of mental tasks, it’s a little less clear whether those technologies will be complements or maybe substitutes for human labor, and that’s one of the things we’re working through now as a society.  Government jobs on average tend to include more information processing, and on average the workers in that sector are more educated and doing more knowledge work than in a lot of other parts of the economy.  So they, in some ways, are likely to be more affected.
It’s been said that the best idea America ever had was mass public education.  That helped us make the transition from an agricultural economy to one based on industry and services.  It didn’t happen by accident; it happened through public policy.  We’re going to have to reinvent what education is and focus more on creativity and interpersonal skills — things that machines are not very good at — and less on having people sit quietly in rows, listen to instructions and carry out those instructions.
    —    Professor Erik Brynjolfsson
MIT Sloan School of Management
[All quotes taken from the article written by Colin Wood titled: “The Uncertain Future Of Work” appearing in the magazine “Government Technology“, April 2014.
The article can be found online at: http://www.govtech.com/products/Robots-Drones-and-the-Uncertain-Future-of-Work.html
Just a quick comment…  When the good professor says “government jobs” are likely to be more affected, I believe he is speaking proportionately, not in terms of sheer volume / numbers.  By the time this shift has a serious proportional impact on government jobs, there will far more significant numbers of job losses in the private sector – if for no other reason than there are ten times more jobs in the private sector.  I am using that ratio (10 to 1) because I am including all federal, state and local government jobs in the lump.  It should be noted that contracted-out jobs are almost one for one between government and private sector jobs.  I would expect nearly all of the contracted jobs to be eliminated before the cuts come to “real” government jobs.    —    KMAB]
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We will only keep people from fleeing the countryside into urban favelas, villas miseries, shantytowns and squatter villages when the productivity gap is closed between what brute labor on the soil can accomplish and what advanced technology makes possible today – and will make possible tomorrow.
    —     Alvin Toffler
From his book:  “Future Shock
 …
The American middle class is shrinking and it’s technology that’s causing it.  It’s not all bad.  The gains in efficiency begotten by automation have been great for productivity.  And productivity means progress.  It always has.  Since the Industrial Revolution began around 1760, new technologies have been stealing jobs, and since 1760, people have responded by finding or inventing new jobs that contemporary technologies couldn’t do.
It’s a good system — in the long term, everyone benefits from technological progress, and while the workers losing their jobs in the interim might feel a bit miffed, people have always found a way to bounce back into an ever-adapting economy.  Besides, if machines can do something better than people can, it would be senseless to ignore such utility and hold back progress for fear of a few temporarily lost jobs.
Unfortunately for today’s average worker, finding or inventing a new job is harder than it once was.  When economists look back, they see that it was around 1999 when something changed.  Productivity kept going up, but where in the past median household income and employment per capita would have also hitched along, they instead diverged.  Median household income is on a steep decline, employment isn’t bouncing back strongly after the Great Recession, and a greater percentage of Americans now identify themselves as “lower class” than at any point in history.
     —    Colin Wood
[From the article: “The Uncertain Future Of Work” appearing in the magazine “Government Technology“, April 2014.
The article can be found online at: http://www.govtech.com/products/Robots-Drones-and-the-Uncertain-Future-of-Work.html
And, no, I don’t believe technology is “causing” it (the shrinking of the American middle class).  Greed and an economic system which has corrupted the political system and which is debasing the educational system is the “cause”.  But, hey, I’m just a liberal democrat, so what do I know…  Right?    —    KMAB]
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At the pinnacle of technological progress, man becomes a god.  New machines and software are continually forged in man’s image and taught to do things that once only people could do.  A day will come when man’s machines surpass their creators in their capacity to do and to think, and it will be at that technological singularity that the economy will double on a weekly basis and mankind will become peripheral to a new reality and consciousness beyond human comprehension.  Conservative estimates place that date at about 100 years from now, but in the meantime, there are smaller fish to fry.
    —    Colin Wood
[From the article: “The Uncertain Future Of Work” appearing in the magazine “Government Technology“, April 2014.
The article can be found online at: http://www.govtech.com/products/Robots-Drones-and-the-Uncertain-Future-of-Work.html
   —    KMAB]
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