Thursday, January 03, 2013

Disappearing jobs

So where did the jobs go? 

As you'd expect from economists, there are lots of theories. 

The most intriguing explanation, for my money, has been offered by two MIT academics, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, in their book Race Against the Machine. 

Crudely stated, their view is that advances in computing of the kind embodied by the Google self-driving car represent the next wave of job-eliminating technology. 

Many skills that were hitherto deemed secure, such as driving, may be devalued and might eventually become worthless, at least in the job market.
You don't have to subscribe to techno-utopian dreams such as Ray Kurzweil's idea of the technological "singularity".

The point at which artificial intelligence (AI) surpasses human intelligence – to see that Brynjolfsson and McAfee might be on to something. 

Moore's law, which says that computing power doubles every 18 months, is still doing its stuff. 

And lots of things that we once thought required fancy AI turned out just to require massive processing power. 

Think of Siri on the iPhone or the Dragon Dictate software that I'm using to "write" this piece.
And as for those sceptics who think that driverless cars are too anodyne to appeal to most motorists, there is the uncomfortable fact that, at least in the industrialised world, the car has peaked. 

We're driving less, year on year. 

Gridlock drains the romance from driving. 

And young people are not lusting to own cars like they used to in the era portrayed in the film American Graffiti.

All that remains is for us to file a Sorn (Statutory Off Road Notification) for Jeremy Clarkson and we're done.
More and more activities once considered safe from automation are not.
Time for humanity to consider what to do next?

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