In an article published in the New York Times, two MIT scientists have released some research findings where they posit that the faltering economy may be affecting the jobs economy and causing job losses but that rapidly advancing technology is magnifying this effect.
The two researchers, Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist and director of the M.I.T. Center for Digital Business, and Andrew P. McAfee associate director and principal research scientist at the center are set to launch an ebook called Race Against The Machine where they explore the effect of automation on the human work economy.
The researchers summarize their research findings by concluding that many workers are losing the race to machines.
This alarming findings have been echoed by other researchers including W. Brian Arthur, an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute, who wrote in the McKinsey Quarterly that automation was swallowing up factory service jobs. The article goes on to site historical evidence and so on.
My perspective is sort of a silver lining perspective. In as much as I may not refute these research findings (I actually agree with them), I choose to see a different angle to the issue. It is true that the rapid rise of technology is displacing many people from their jobs but this effect can be seen in a different way. Think of it as a diffusion of jobs rather than a diminishing of jobs.
To put this into perspective, the FCC has recently approved a plan to expand internet broadband to parts of the US that have slower connections.
“As a result, today’s action has the potential to be one of the biggest job creators in rural America in decades,” the agency said. “The FCC estimates that approximately 500,000 jobs will be created over the next six years by expanding high-speed Internet access to over 7 million Americans living in rural areas.”
This shows that in as much as factory jobs and other white collar jobs are disappearing, there is another emerging e-conomy that resides primarily in the cloud. With a radical shift to a knowledge or information economy, the number of job opportunities created as a direct result of technology may very well be proportional to the number of jobs that are lost to automation technology.
I therefore support the move by the FCC to increase broadband access to rural areas and hope that more and more people will find and create alternative jobs through technology rather than getting depressed over the number of jobs lost to the machines.