Is AI and technology to blame for high unemployment?

The Industrial Revolution occurred when new tools magnified worker productivity. But the "AI Revolution" may render many mid-level jobs completely obsolete.

A thought-provoking blog at The Economist titled Difference Engine: Luddite Legacy makes the case that unemployment stays high because business productivity keeps increasing. Often, that productivity is powered by automated technology and AI. White collar workers are being replaced by technology just as millions of farm workers were replaced by mechanized farm equipment like tractors and crop-picking machines a hundred years ago. Those $300,000 a year radiologists? What happens when 90 percent of them are replaced by pattern recognition software? Some experts now say about 40 percent of all jobs could, more or less, be performed by software.

Hope for knowledge workers? Learn to work with the trend. Hundreds of thousands of apps are sold for smartphones and tablets, and somebody has to write them. Amazon and eBay report about 600,000 people make their living creating products for a global audience reached through Amazon and eBay. In a hopeful ending, the article suggests AI and technology may enhance our brain power, much like machines two hundred years ago enhanced our muscle power. "But for sure, the world is going to be a different place," says The Economist.


After using the original Siri (app) for 18 months, I no longer had a need for an assistant - My scheduling­, reservatio­ns, reminders and local informatio­n was handled by a voice-acti­vated app. That assistant job is gone, like it or not, just as many millions of jobs will be as these devices are adopted and grow more sophistica­ted. None of us immune.

GoDogGo on

The crucial realization, is that with automation, marginal costs typically collapse. Not only does technology replace labor - it also supplants capital.

shaun39 on

Can anyone say: "I Robot"?

Mister Grumpy on

I started my career right out of uni by developing software which eliminated hundreds of low skill jobs. Hundreds... really, what can you say about that? That I should pat myself on the back for boosting productivity by 3000% for a junior programmer's wages? That someone else would have done it if I hadn't? That these people have been freed up from tedious, repetitive jobs to become the creative people they always wanted to be? Honestly, the excuses ring a bit hollow.

politician on


Seriously? Come on...Unemployment in the US/Europe is moving Farmers & Peasants from the farm to factories in China. There are very few jobs being lost to Technology in the US and Europe. Jobs have moved from high cost producers to low cost producers.

CrashinChiTown on

Computers will never think - mimic yes - think no - Stop scaring an already scare populous

valmach on

I don't see how non-knowledge-based work is gone forever. Sure, we have roombas, but we are a long way from me being able to tell a robot to clean a messy room, or to properly lay out merchandise that has been messed up by customers. Heck, even at high-end SysAdmin rates, I can assemble servers cheaper than I can buy them from Dell.

lsc on

Not new

this story was told by kurt vonnegut in "player piano" (1952). it was depressing then, it's still depressing. but the question from the first paragraph remains: if the forces of capital replace everyone with robots, who will buy their various offerings?

rottenberries on

The problem isn't that there aren't new jobs being created, it's that almost none of them can be done by the people who were displaced. You lay off 10,000 factory workers. Do you think they can ever be airline pilots? Or programmers? Or financial analysts? Or what-have-yous?

potatolicious on

A cultural evolution in the western world is needed to facilitate widespread success in the evolved economy. It’s going to hurt.

hagy on

The best news from economists? Increasing worker productivity leads to more customers, markets, and employment.

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