Race Against the Machine: a quick review

I recently read Race Against the Machine by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. Published last year, this near-monograph takes on the question of how technology influences employment in the economy.  Early chapters cover the duality of how technology can define new jobs, creating employment, and yet can change the dynamics of employment by mooting entire labor markets, reducing employment headroom in the same breath as inventing technological unemployment.  Intermediate text about the concept of the singularity and the possibility of exponential computing advancements is moderately accurate, portraying a false sense of just how fast computers will become skilled at sophisticated human behaviors like communication and problem-solving. But the middle chapters, demonstrating how changes in productivity and technology uptake can change job markets, are outstanding and well worth the book’s price. The final chapter takes a sudden swerve to an optimistic tone, suggesting that systemic changes can cause technological advancement to generate more jobs rather than evaporate job opportunities. This final chapter is weak and unconvincing, for instance suggesting that, if only labor rules were relaxed so companies could hire and fire more easily, perhaps those tech-savvy companies would hire people more readily in spite of technological “human replacements.” The idea that unions and regulations cause chornic underemployment when technology presents robot replacements to people– well, that idea is just as much Rube Goldberg as my daughter’s inventions. One line is particularly telling– make people more valuable than the machines that replace them. The problem with this is, of course, the wavefront of robotics moves much faster than we can re-educate or re-tool humans. We operate at different speeds, and so the gap is ever growing, even with a [nonexistent] concerted effort aimed at closing it.

5 thoughts on “Race Against the Machine: a quick review

  1. Pingback: The Great Underemployment Debate, Continued | robotfuturesbook

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