Machines Will Never Put Humans Out of Work

Machines Will Never Put Humans Out of Work

It is now widely accepted that technological advances, especially ones that make machines more like humans -- such as robotization or artificial intelligence -- are putting people out of work and will only destroy more jobs in the future. The wealth will accrue to those who own the machines, not to what's known as the middle class today. There's some good news for humans, though: The evidence of our displacement by machines is sketchy, and we should be able to adjust to the new technological era if we put our minds to it.

QuickTake Artificial Intelligence

Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology labeled this "the great decoupling": according to them, advances in productivity, mainly driven by the development of digital technology, and the resulting economic growth, no longer cause employment and workers' incomes to rise. "The Second Machine Age is playing out differently than the First Machine Age, continuing the long-term trend of material abundance but not of ever-greater labor demand," McAfee told Harvard Business Review. 

Here's what the trend looks like:

Graph: Harvard Business Review

Yet the economist Robert Atkinson, who heads the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, argues that no "great decoupling" is taking place. Employment, he points out, declines in step with the working-age population. Productivity and employment, Atkinson writes, "were never coupled, any more than the divorce rate in Maine and the consumption of margarine (two variables that have moved together)." He, too, has a convincing-looking chart:

Graph: ITIF










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