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Hullabaloo


Friday, January 17, 2014

 
Another highlight on the technology vs employment problem

by David Atkins

Earlier this morning I posted about The Economist's grudging acceptance of the reality that technology and globalization are going to force major changes to 21st century jobs policy. While the stodgy neoliberal mag wouldn't go so far as to recommend a universal basic income as a solution, others are, including Graham Templeton at popular website Geek.com:

Making society-scale predictions in tech is tricky work, both because it’s so easy to be wrong and because even being right on the wrong timeline can scuttle your point. For instance, we’re going on about decade eight of arm-flapping panic about the coming wave of advanced computers and robots poised to make human labor obsolete. Said today, this claim will elicit robust counter-arguments from even the most technologically ignorant old-timer. It’s simply understood, taken for granted, that a population will need precisely the number of working-aged adults to be working, in order to provide for the needs and wants of the population as a whole. In 2014, that assumption will start to fall apart. Why will 2014 be the year this trend begins, when 1934, 1954, 1974 and 1994 all saw obsolete jobs replaced with new ones?
A number of reasons. For one, the technologies on display here actually work. Rather than saying, “Someday, human callers may be replaced by advanced networks of recordings,” researchers are simply testing those networks — and achieving incredible success. Self driving cars have logged millions of miles on the road, NASA is 3D printing mission-ready engine parts, and the computational abilities of Big Data are making possible everything from Netflix recommendations to total government surveillance.

In 2014, trends will progress and reports will surface such that it will be impossible to totally ignore the oncoming future. Presidential addresses will likely stick to job-creation rhetoric for quite some time, but in the trenches of the news media an new conversation will begin: What do we do now?

Additional prediction: The word “unemployment” will become secondary to “underemployment”; the phrase “guaranteed income” will begin to become known by the general public.
Futurists often wind up with egg on their faces, but I think it's a pretty easy call to say that this and climate change are by far the two most significant public policy problems of the 21st century. And needless to say, there is no conservative or libertarian approach that can even begin to make a dent in them.


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