The Fourth Industrial Revolution
What It Means and How to Respond
How to Make Almost Anything
The Digital Fabrication Revolution
As Objects Go Online
The Promise (and Pitfalls) of the Internet of Things
The Rise of Big Data
How It's Changing the Way We Think About the World
The Mobile-Finance Revolution
How Cell Phones Can Spur Development
Biology's Brave New World
The Promise and Perils of the Synbio Revolution
The Robots Are Coming
How Technological Breakthroughs Will Transform Everyday Life
New World Order
Labor, Capital, and Ideas in the Power Law Economy
Will Humans Go the Way of Horses?
Labor in the Second Machine Age
Same as It Ever Was
Why the Techno-optimists Are Wrong
The Future of Cities
The Internet of Everything will Change How We Live
The Coming Robot Dystopia
All Too Inhuman
The Political Power of Social Media
Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change
From Innovation to Revolution
Do Social Media Make Protests Possible?
The Next Safety Net
Social Policy for a Digital Age
The Moral Code
How To Teach Robots Right and Wrong
Focus on Data Use, Not Data Collection
The Power of Market Creation
How Innovation Can Spur Development
The Innovative State
Governments Should Make Markets, Not Just Fix Them
Food and the Transformation of Africa
Getting Smallholders Connected
The debate over what technology does to work, jobs, and wages is as old as the industrial era itself. In the second decade of the nineteenth century, a group of English textile workers called the Luddites protested the introduction of spinning frames and power looms, machines of the nascent Industrial Revolution that threatened to leave them without jobs. Since then, each new burst of technological progress has brought with it another wave of concern about a possible mass displacement of labor.
On one side of the debate are those who believe that new technologies are likely to replace workers. Karl Marx, writing during the age of steam, described the automation of the proletariat as a necessary feature of capitalism. In 1930, after electrification and the internal combustion engine had taken off, John Maynard Keynes predicted that such innovations would lead to an increase in material prosperity but also to widespread “technological unemployment.” At the dawn of the computer era, in 1964, a group of scientists and social theorists sent an open letter to U.S. President Lyndon Johnson warning that cybernation “results in a system of almost unlimited productive capacity, which requires progressively less human labor.” Recently, we and others have argued that as digital technologies race ahead, they have the potential to leave many workers behind.
On the other side are those who say that workers will be just fine. They have history on their side: real wages and the number of jobs have increased relatively steadily throughout the industrialized world since the middle of the nineteenth century, even as technology advanced like never before. A 1987 National Academy of Sciences report explained why:
By reducing the costs of production and thereby lowering the price of a particular good in a competitive market, technological change frequently leads to increases in output demand: greater output demand results in increased production, which requires more labor.
This view has gained enough traction in mainstream economics that the contrary belief—that technological progress might reduce human employment—
Loading, please wait...