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The robots are coming for your job.
In the past few months thereâs been a boomlet of very smart people worrying about the economic consequences of our increasingly robotic future.Â Kevin Kelly, in a cover story for Wired last month, describes this imminent — but not yet sentient — threat: âbefore the end of this century, 70 percent of todayâs occupations will likewise be replaced by automation… robot replacement is just a matter of timeâ. Heâs not worried, however, because âThe one thing humans can do that robots canât (at least for a long while) is to decide what it is that humans want to doâ. You will always have a job; it will just consist primarily of telling robots what to do.
Robot servants and factory workers may give us more leisure time, but Noah Smith worries theyâll further erode laborâs declining share of national income. Even more problematic, they will cause âold mechanisms for coping with inequality break [to] downâ. Paul Krugman agrees that a shift is necessary: if laborâs share if income continues to decline, âit makes nonsense of just about all the conventional wisdom on reducing inequality. Better education wonât do much to reduce inequality if the big rewards simply go to those with the most assetsâ.
How do you redistribute wealth from robots towards humans? Smith has a few suggestions, including incentivizing people to control their own capital (i.e. owning robots).
Todayâs capitalists, however, might not be too pleased with technologyâs ascendancy. Izabella Kaminska thinks that we have already reached the point where technology threatens businessâs ability to generate returns on capital. That explains the rise of patent wars and other attempts to defend corporate profits with legal, rather than economic, moats. Kaminska has pulled together a great set of links examining the conflict between technology and capital.
This also isnât the first boom in futurist, robo-economic theory. Bloomberg has a helpful look back at the American technocrats of the 1930âs. They thought increased productivity through mechanization had created the mass unemployment of the Great Depression, and that scientists should run the country as engineer kings. (A leading member of the movement turned out to be a fraud, and the movement was largely discredited academically).
This debate will continue, at least until the singularity arrives. Then humanity will end, or proceed infinitely, depending on your view. — Ben Walsh
On to todayâs links:
Finally, Nate Silver is wrong about something of national importance - ESPN
Very good reasons to delay the canonization of Tim Geithner – Mike Konczal
“Overthinking this sort of thing is exactly the right response. But they haven’t overthought it enoughâ – New Statesman
Mark Sanchez as a sunk cost – James Surowieki
“Then they came for my assault rifle, and I said, âAssault rifles? You should have started with assault rifles” – McSweeneyâs
Low growth delivers political paralysis, and political paralysis delivers low growth – Annie Lowrey