Skip to comments.Does information technology destroy or create jobs? Debate heats up
Posted on 11/14/2011 5:04:36 PM PST by gitmo
Is information technology destroying more jobs than it creates? Thats long been the conventional wisdom, of course. Proponents of IT, on the other hand, point to the new types of opportunities created as a result of the march of technology from programming to analytics to technicians.
However, two longtime proponents of IT as an opportunity creator Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, both with MIT have taken a darker view of ITs impact on the economy.
In the latest edition of MIT Technology Review, David Talbot reviewed Brynjolfsson and McAfees new book: Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, and pulls out the observation that the digital economy may be favoring that 1% at the top of the pyramid while sapping opportunities at lower levels of the economy.
The first decade of the 2000s was a time of accelerating technology, accompanied by stagnant employment growth, the authors point out. Employment fell by 1% during the past decade, compared to 20% growth in the 1980s and 1990s. This is no coincidence, Brynjolfsson and McAfee say. For example, increasing automation has dramatically reduced the need for customer service workers across many industries, such as airline reservations or directory assistance, the authors point out. MacAfee also points out that certain kinds of document examination once done by armies of lawyerscan now be done competently by scanning technologies and software.
Its not the labor-intensive or professional jobs that will be replaced by automation top executives may see their roles increasingly automated as well. Just last week, SmartPlanet Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan reported on Gartner analyst Nigel Rayners prediction that within a couple of decades, many of the things executives do today will be automated. Rayner observes that the only thing standing in the way of more automated executive decision-making is business culture. But, effectively, most of what the CFO, CEO and managers do today will be done better by machines, he says.
In addition, as Brynjolfsson and McAfee observe, intelligent assistants and question-answer softwareof which IBMs Watson is one examplemay accelerate the trend. (Talbots review and the book were written prior to Apples Siri introduction, so the implications of intelligent assistants in the palm of ones hand were not explored.)
The rise of robotic automation is another trend, and in the book, Brynjolfsson observes that global electronics manufacturer Foxconn plans to replace many of its factory workers in China with a million new robots.
The employment numbers for this decade that Brynjolfsson and McAfee site are disturbing, and technology may be to blame, at least to a partial degree. But these official numbers but dont take into account the emergence and evolution of entrepreneurial ventures. And technologies such as cloud computing and social networking are providing immense, low-cost resources for new business creation. Many of these new ventures are off the radar.
Talbot also offers an opposing point of view as well: Nobel prize-winning economist Robert Solow, for one, says it has been the norm throughout the course of history for technology to throw people out of work. But in the long run, employment keeps growing, and wages keep rising.
At the IBM Watson University Symposium at Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan School of Management, McAfee moderated a panel on the role of computers in 2020 (live-blogged by Paul Gillin), in which MITs Rodney Brooks made the observation that the rapid development of IT in North America is providing a competitive edge in the global economy:
We think manufacturing is disappearing from the US, but in reality there is still $2 trillion in manufacturing in the US. What weve done is go after the high end. We have to find things to manufacture that the Chinese cant. What this has led to is manufacturing jobs getting higher tech. If we can build robotic tools that help people, we can get incredible productivity. The PC didnt get rid of office workers; it made them do things differently. We have to do that with robots. We can take jobs back from China but they wont be the same jobs. That doesnt mean people have to be engineers to work. Instead of a factory worker doing a repetitive task, he can supervise a team of robots doing repetitive tasks.
More discussion on technologys impact on jobs and job creation is available from IBMs live-blogging coverage of the IBM Watson Challenge symposium. McAfee points out that technology now offers organizations robust analytic toolkits that enable greater insights and predictions on market trends. (IBM is sponsor of the SmartPlanet site.) As Irving Wladawsky-Berger, former IBM executive and MIT lecturer observed at the symposium: Cloud computing and other technologies can help entrepreneurs get started and build companies and hire people. So a lot of small companies will spring upnot the high tech companies but companies that take advantage of technology.
(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.)
A dispatcher can quickly do the tasks that would require 5-10 years experience to perform by using well-designed dispatching software. Likewise, someone who is not a craftsman can do the work on an assembly line that formerly took an experienced metalworker or woodworker.
Technology eliminates/ makes the tedious chores easier and faster, freeing folks up to THINK.
...and creates tedious software writing chores.
Amazing how these people will make these stupid claims as they play iphones, laptops, and HDTVs.
Technology (automobiles) eliminated buggy whip manufacturers and all of the jobs employed in that industry.
I always say I’m a good example of someone who would not have my job without technology. I’m a bookkeeper and I would NEVER have been able to to do my job before the invention of the adding machine. And yes, I’m old enough so that I did use those for a while. And I even did work at one place with just a mechanical cash register, no adding just ringing. (However I got fired from that job, but not, iirc, for bad cash registering!)
However, this did not create a job, bookkeepers have been around almost forever, but it did enable me to do it for a living. And I’m pretty good at it, I just can’t do arithmetic very well without a machine.
Hubby laughs at me, but I tell him the job is BOOK-KEEPER, not mathematician.
We have the ability to enter a “post-capitalist” society (if we can get Dumb0 and his crony-socialists out of the way). By “post-capitalist” I don’t mean socialist, I mean the need for massive amounts of capital to start a business is withering away.
Anybody can start an online business today from home for under a few hundred dollars. Of course, if each of us has our own online business it would be like each of us raising and bartering our own vegetables - we’ll each earn a living and afford the varied diet that bartering provides, but none of us will get “rich” (there will still be the “winner-take-all” rich - actors, musicians, etc - but even then, in the age of YouTube and the proliferation of media outlets, the ability of musical artists in this day and age to get as rich as Led Zep once did (who had there own 727 I think it was) is greatly diminished).
Okay, let's address the THINKERS in central Africa, the upper Amazon, or xxxxistan.... They all have plenty of time to contemplate their next move....
Like what am I gonna do for tomorrow's meal....
Your response was pure B/S.
This article is fretting for the people who are unwilling, or unable, to do that.
And based on November, 2008 there are a lot of people unwilling to think.
And based on November, 2008 there are a lot of people unwilling to think.
And I bet they are still getting unemployment compensation because of the buggy whip union! lol
I still contend that they ONLY way to create jobs is to create the MAXIMUM amount of productive output with the MINIMUM of jobs.
Do tractors destroy or create jobs?
and these "experts" couldn't foresee Siri in the Iphone, yet they can predict the future for the entire world economy???
“If we were all subsistence level farmers, there would be almost no unemployment.”
Back to the future.
Damn that Jethro Tull and his improved seed drill!
I hope we will all be able to at least use a plow and a mule to do our farming.
If we actually enforced immigration law and deported all the illegals we would have almost no unemployment either so all the blame is not on technology.
....and creates tedious tidying up after ourselves now that mistakes can be promulgated at a prodigious rate.
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