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The Real Job Threat 990

NicknamesAreStupid writes "The NYTimes reports on a book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew P. McAfee (MIT director-level staffers), Race Against the Machine, which suggests that the true threat to jobs is not outsourcing — it's the machine! Imagine the Terminator flipping burgers, cleaning your house, approving your loan, handling your IT questions, and doing your job faster, better, and more cheaply. Now that's an apocalypse with a twist — The Job Terminator." Reader wjousts points out another of the authors' arguments: that IT advances have cost more jobs than they've created.
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The Real Job Threat

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  • Manna? (Score:3, Informative)

    by nine932038 ( 1934132 ) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @02:48PM (#37834662)

    There was a story about this involving some sort of super AI called Manna. It ended up essentially destroying the economy, I believe, and relegating everyone below the highest classes to concentration camps for poor people.

    I don't know that their solution was ideal, but I do suspect that a post-scarce economy is what we need to investigate.

  • Not a new argument (Score:4, Informative)

    by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @03:04PM (#37834940) Homepage

    It's really not even close to a new argument. The basic idea, put forward by the Luddites was that new technology makes workers more and more superfluous, ruining the lives of workers.

    Karl Marx even took it a step further: He argued that while the new technology leads to lower prices of goods and services, which would appear to benefit workers, he pointed out that employers would then adjust to the lower cost of living by lowering real wages, which meant that the lowest-level workers don't benefit at all from the technology.

  • by Dhalka226 ( 559740 ) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @03:30PM (#37835412)

    There will always be more work to be done

    I think you're begging the question. Even if there was always more work to do in the past, that doesn't necessarily mean there will be in the future. However I don't even agree with that assumption.

    Your grandparents were farmers and you are not, but that doesn't mean that machines destroying farming as a job leads to "more work." It just means that you found work elsewhere; somebody else very well may have not. You "took" somebody else's job, the machines didn't magically create it for you out of the rubble of the jobs they replaced.

    I do agree with you partially: There is always work to be done, but not necessarily more work. Short of some extremely advanced and downright scary AI, there will always be jobs in this hypothetical world for programming the robots, and always work for mechanics repairing the robots. There will always be work to do in research. There will always be some degree of a service sector -- especially once we decide that those sorts of jobs are where we stick people to say they have a job. But all these things will shrink. They will not support hundreds of millions of workers in the US, and even if they magically could not everybody is suited for these jobs.

    And that's assuming most of the jobs left actually stay in the country, which there is little reason to believe that they will for areas like software.

    There will always be work, but there won't always be enough work, and our system of values and economy will have to change in ways I can't even fathom the workings of.

A committee is a group that keeps the minutes and loses hours. -- Milton Berle