Robots and software really are eating jobs

Following on from my post last night (“Robots and the Chinese“), I recieved a great link in the mail this morning.

From the Economist, “Difference Engine: Luddite legacy“:

But here is the question: if the pace of technological progress is accelerating faster than ever, as all the evidence indicates it is, why has unemployment remained so stubbornly high—despite the rebound in business profits to record levels? Two-and-a-half years after the Great Recession officially ended, unemployment has remained above 9% in America. That is only one percentage point better than the country’s joblessness three years ago at the depths of the recession.

…The conventional explanation for America’s current plight is that, at an annualised 2.5% for the most recent quarter (compared with an historical average of 3.3%), the economy is simply not expanding fast enough to put all the people who lost their jobs back to work. Consumer demand, say economists like Dr Tyson, is evidently not there for companies to start hiring again. Clearly, too many chastened Americans are continuing to pay off their debts and save for rainy days, rather than splurging on things they may fancy but can easily manage without.

There is a good deal of truth in that. But it misses a crucial change that economists are loth to accept, though technologists have been concerned about it for several years. This is the disturbing thought that, sluggish business cycles aside, America’s current employment woes stem from a precipitous and permanent change caused by not too little technological progress, but too much. The evidence is irrefutable that computerised automation, networks and artificial intelligence (AI)—including machine-learning, language-translation, and speech- and pattern-recognition software—are beginning to render many jobs simply obsolete.

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