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Modern Times

Yet more on this topic, this time from Gary Marcus at the New Yorker:

For centuries, it has always been the case that some new jobs are eliminated by technology, while others are created. It’s hard to parse out exactly the role that technology has played, but as Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee note in their superb recent book, “Race Against the Machine,” over the last decade throughout the economy, there has been a drop in the employment-to-population ratio and a drop in median wages, and many of the people who lost jobs couldn’t find new ones that paid as well as the ones that they lost.

…And as machines continue to get smarter, cheaper, and more effective, our options dwindle. Secretaries have been replaced by word processors and accountants by QuickBooks. As John Markoff explained last year, in an article entitled “Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software,” blue-collar and white-collar jobs are both threatened. Even new-fangled information-economy jobs like I.T. departments are now endangered by systems like Amazon’s back-end A.W.S. infrastructure, which provides one-stop cloud-based solutions where a team of on-site computer wizards were once needed. With advances in both hardware and software, the time between the invention of a job and its automated replacement is getting shorter.

…Anything that can be automated will, but where we can create new things, there still may be a niche for us to fill.

It’s that “may” that gets me.

Marcus continues:

It’s not too early to start preparing for that future. Curricula that foster creativity—by developing children’s intrinsic motivation for originality, encouraging their intellectual risk-taking and cultivating their metacognitive ability to self-reflect—might be a good place to start.

Well, whether that can do the trick in time is, to say the least, doubtful, but it beats fretting about a declining birthrate or, worse still, arguing for mass immigration to fill a non-existent labor gap.