I read an interesting article recently titled, “Why AI Could Destroy More Jobs than it Creates, and How to Save Them” by a guy over at Tech Republic, Nick Heath. The article discussed a new book co-authored by two economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. The book is called The Second Machine Age, and as explained on the book’s website:
“…Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee—two thinkers at the forefront of their field— make the case that we should be optimistic about the future because technological progress, ‘the only free lunch that economists believe in,’ is accelerating quickly past our intuitions and expectations. But we should also be mindful of our values and our choices: as technology races ahead, it may leave a lot of people, organizations and institutions behind.”
Building off of this, Heath’s article presents a new iteration of a familiar theory. Heath asserts that with today’s rapidly expanding technological landscape, more and more jobs are being automated, while the population steadily increases.
He notes the following statistic to back up his claim:
“For most of the second half of the twentieth century the economic value generated in the US – the country’s productivity – grew hand-in-hand with the number of workers. But in 2000 the two measures began to diverge. From the turn of the century a gap opened up between productivity and total employment. By 2011, that delta had widened significantly, reflecting continued economic growth but no associated increase in job creation.”
All the way back in 1965, Moore’s Law stated that the computing power of a microprocessor would double every 18 months. This fact is still true today. But with an ever increasing population seemingly permanently on the horizon, Moore’s Law gains new meaning.
Heath’s article provides some great insight into the role computerization is playing in today’s economy. And it certainly makes one thing clear: if you want to stay in business, have a promising career, and avoid becoming “obsolete”, you have to be creative and make A.I. work for you.
We take it for granted that that thing we use as a watch, camera, phone, calculator, and calendar, in actual fact gives us the computing power to manage an entire enterprise from our pocket. Now it’s time to use that power effectively, before someone else figures out how to use it to replace you.
The impact of technology literally stares some of us right in the face, every waking moment. However, too many people are still not effectively capitalizing on it to run their careers and companies. From paper to email, to spreadsheets, to word processors, too many business owners still believe a spreadsheet or PDF and email is sufficient to keep pace in today’s competitive climate. Unfortunately, most people don’t even realize how outdated this kind of thinking is.
The simple fact is, we take advantage of mobile and technical cloud advances, without thinking about it all the time. We only think about it when something goes wrong, like it did with Apple’s iCloud this past weekend. Are you going to wait until your industry is massively disrupted, or your job is usurped by an iPhone app before you take technology seriously?
Increasingly, we’re seeing start-ups like Uber or AirBnB emerge only to rapidly displace long established industries, and the giants that run them. Unfortunately, these giants also employ thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of people. So for every “Growth Hacking” start-up, there are potentially be thousands of unemployed workers.
Every business and every profession which fails to adopt new technologies to operate their back office, and interact with their customer market, is headed down the same path the industrial revolution started us on long ago. But more, or better machines means doesn’t have to mean less people.
So, what can we do?
The Second Machine Age leaves readers with a strong message, and lucky for us, it’s not all bad news. As the authors state in their conclusion, “‘technology is not destiny, we shape our destiny.” Brynjolfsson continues, “[if] we do take an active role I think we can come out on the other side much wealthier and with more shared prosperity than ever before…”
All this really means is, “we have to reinvent education and reskilling, and people are going to have to take it upon themselves to more aggressively learn these skills. Because the technology is changing more rapidly, it’s going to be a case of lifelong learning and continuously reskilling.”