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May 22, 2013 By Paul W. Taylor Meet Mike Rowe, public CIO. Actually, no — that episode of the longtime host of Dirty Jobs was never shot. But just because the CIO’s role doesn’t fit neatly into the premise of the show — a celebration of skilled labor — doesn’t mean that CIOs don’t have dirty jobs. Yes, it’s a management gig or, if you do it right, it is about thinking, leading and innovating. That said, if new technologies bring the promise (or threat) of disruption, CIOs can hardly play the role of [...]
Robert Gordon’s essay “Is U.S. Economic Growth Over?” is very intriguing. His thesis is that technological progress does not always yield the same growth and productivity for each major invention. It could be that some technologies, such as Electricity, Engines, Petroleum and even mundane things such as running water and indoor toilets, may have yielded far greater growth through their introduction that current technologies such as computers and the internet.
These high growth technologies as well as the previous generation of modern agriculture and steam power, were very physical technologies. They took up space and altered space. They needed labor for their development, construction and even use. They reshaped the physical world with railroads, roads, buildings, factories etc.
Are there any new technologies that have this sort of impact? Maybe space travel and genetics, which both could create physical changes in our world (or bodies). New power sources will still be delivered as electricity. Cars may drive themselves, and the design may change, but they are still fundamentally vehicles for personal travel. Factories may become robotic, but will the washing machine they make be fundamentally different?
It does seem in some way that these earlier physical technologies had greater ability to spur economic growth as they required so much labor and capital to develop. Maybe current and future technologies, while exciting, won’t have the same impact on growth.
Robert J. Gordon has a new NBER working paper ‘essay that really should cite Tyler Cowen, since it’s all about a Great Stagnation in U.S. growth. Unlike Cowen, however, Gordon believes that the Stagnation will persist into the indefinite future. The paper is really two essays in one – the first part speculates that most of the big discoveries and inventions have already been made, and the second part identifies social and institutional constraints on U.S. growth. (Here are thoughts on the paper by FT Alphaville and Paul Krugman ). Although there are some parts of the paper with [...]
Great talk by Andrew McAfee who is the co-author of Race Against the Machine. He sees a future where machines are replacing human work at an accelerating rate. It is already happening and will spread to the most unexpected areas of the economy. While it is hard not to agree with his rosy vision of a future where our minds are augmented with digital computing, the hard part is how we get there.
The advent of the industrial revolution was a brutal time of wars, subjugation, immense fortunes and immense poverty as we moved our whole population from agriculture to industry. How can a fundamental change to the economy, of labor providing wages providing consumption, be upended without huge societal upheaval?
Robots and algorithms are getting good at jobs like building cars, writing articles, translating — jobs that once required a human. So what will we humans do for work? Andrew McAfee walks through recent labor data to say: We ain’t seen nothing yet. But then he steps back to look at big history, and comes up with a surprising and even thrilling view of what comes next.
I think Jim Pinto brings up some great points here about the ‘feel’ that people bring to an automated environment. Robots and automated systems are fast and efficient, but they don’t have the adaptability and judgement to handle change and non-standard environments.
What this means for employment is that we increasingly need people who can recognize unusual conditions, react to them and make judgements and decisions. Pushing this down to the factory floor (or the window observatory!) will mean that we need broadly educated and highly capable people. Not a recipe for big employment gains.
While automation typically provides consistent performance, it lacks judgment, adaptability and flexibility under changing conditions. Humans provide the “feel” that makes them the most important element of production and control systems.
Enhanced productivity comes by optimizing the human element. People provide the peripheral vision; they fill in the gaps and create the broader context in ways that machines cannot. This partnership is the man/machine framework.
Will Hutton writes : At least Summers sees some underlying economic dynamism. For techno-pessimists such as economist Professor Tyler Cowen the future is even darker. It is not only that automation and robotisation are coming, but that there are no new worthwhile transformational technologies for them to automate. All the obvious human needs – to move, to have power, to communicate – have been solved through cars, planes, mobile phones and computers. According to Cowen, we have come to the end of the great “general purpose technologies” (technologies that transform an entire economy, such as the steam engine, electricity, [...]
AND NOW FOR THE BAIT and switch. I promised you this would be a happy story, and in the long run it is. But first we have to get there. And at this point our tale takes a darker turn. What do we do over the next few decades as robots become steadily more capable and steadily begin taking away all our jobs? This is the kind of thing that futurologists write about frequently, but when I started looking for answers from mainstream economists, it turned out there wasn’t much to choose from. The economics community just hasn’t spent much [...]
Suddenly a robotised, automated economic reality is moving off the science fiction pages and into daily life. The growing use of unmanned battlefield drones is encouraging the growth of pilotless commercial aircraft – the first ever flew in British airspace last month. Google’s driverless car is completing ever more trials ever more successfully: the world’s major car companies are all hot in pursuit, working on their own prototypes of their own versions. The automated checkouts at supermarkets are becoming as familiar as bank cash machines. From staff-free ticket offices to students who can learn online, it seems there is no corner [...]
Jaron Lanier is a computer science pioneer who has grown gradually disenchanted with the online world since his early days popularizing the idea of virtual reality. “Lanier is often described as ‘visionary,’ ” Jennifer Kahn wrote in a 2011 New Yorker profile, “a word that manages to convey both a capacity for mercurial insight and a lack of practical job skills.”
Raised mostly in Texas and New Mexico by bohemian parents who’d escaped anti-Semitic violence in Europe, he’s been a young disciple of Richard Feynman, an employee at Atari, a scholar at Columbia, a visiting artist at New York University, [...]
Frances Coppola explores how increasing automation is fundamentally shifting the nature of work away from ‘making stuff’ towards personal services. One of the most interesting issues to arise in the course of the “comment-athon” on my post “The Golden Calf” was the suggestion that the link between money and work is broken, and indeed that there is no longer a reliable link between “earning” and working. This is a logical consequence of two things: firstly, increased automation of production means the number of people needed to produce enough goods to meet people’s basic needs is declining; secondly, an increasing [...]
We are fast approaching the point where supercomputers will be able to process information quicker than the human brain. The current title-holder of the world’s fastest computer – Cray Inc’s Titan – has been verified in performing 17.8 quadrillion calculations per second – or 17.8 petaflops, to use the technical vernacular. The human brain, by comparison, is variously estimated to be able to process anything up to 40 petaflops.
So humans are still winning. But only just. In this age of exponential increases in compute power, we should now be preparing to hand over the [...]
This is a story about the future. Not the unhappy future, the one where climate change turns the planet into a cinder or we all die in a global nuclear war. This is the happy version. It’s the one where computers keep getting smarter and smarter, and clever engineers keep building better and better robots. By 2040, computers the size of a softball are as smart as human beings. Smarter, in fact. Plus they’re computers : They never get tired, they’re never ill-tempered, they never make mistakes, and they have instant access to all of human knowledge.
The result is [...]
In the book Race Against the Machine , Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of MIT’s Sloan School of Management present a chart showing U.S. productivity, GDP, employment, and income from 1953 to 2011. The chart looks as you would expect from 1953 until the mid-1980s, with every one of the measures rising together: employees work more productively, companies make more money, and more hires occur as the middle class swells.
Then, during Reagan’s tenure, the bad news begins to show its face. First, even though productivity and GDP continue their upward arc, median household income starts to level off. [...]
A small percentage of Milwaukee’s fast-food workforce walked off the job this week, demanding a greater than 100% increase in the minimum wage — to $15 an hour from Wisconsin’s current $7.25 an hour.
Though the strikers have targeted fast-food chain restaurants, their real battle isn’t with restaurant management at all; it’s with the restaurant’s price-conscious customers. And if the workers get their way with a $15 minimum wage, they will only hasten the service industry’s move toward automation and self-service, where the customer (or even a computer) performs a task that used to be part of someone’s job description.