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Milken Institute Global Conference: Technology and Jobs – Should workers worry?
Judy Shapiro , Editor | Apr 19, 2019
Topic category: Social Justice
FROM: Eden

Gerald Huff was a principal software engineer at Tesla, where he was the technical lead for the software that manages the flow of thousands of Model 3 parts throughout the factory. In this video from the conference that describes the future of jobs in the context of social justice, Mr. Huff discusses UBI as part of how we transition into a future where automation will replace more jobs than it creates.

Tags: Milken Institute, Workforce Automation, Income inequality, Universal Basic Income
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Read about technology, jobs, unemployment, and concerns for the future of UBI. Brought to you by The Fund for Humanity.
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READ ABOUT: Should We Be Afraid, Very Afraid?

On March 2, 2015 there was an intelligence Squared debate held in London on the proposition “Be afraid, very afraid: the robots are coming and they will destroy our livelihoods.” Walter Isaacson (President and CEO of the Aspen Institute) and Pippa Malmgren (founder of H Robotics) argued against the motion. Since their arguments included the most common objections to the risk of “technological unemployment”, it’s instructive to take them one by one and see how they line up with the facts and against our emerging technological innovations. (For the purposes of this article, I’ll use data for the United States as a representative advanced capitalist economy.)

Let’s start with Isaacson’s prepared statement. He begins:

Since my distinguished opponent, Mr. Keene, started with the Industrial Revolution, and said that this new revolution would be as disruptive as the Industrial Revolution, let me begin by reminding you that the Industrial Revolution wasn’t all that bad. At the end of it, we had more jobs, not fewer jobs.
Technology can indeed be disruptive. It can disrupt certain jobs, as Mr. Keene has said, but it always has, and I submit always will produce more jobs, because it produces more wealth, more personal income, more per capita wealth, and thus, more things that we can make and buy.

The first argument against technological unemployment is that we have been having technological innovation for hundreds of years and the simple fact is we have more people employed in jobs now than ever before. The mechanism for this is fairly clear, as described by Isaacson. As technology automates a sector (like agriculture, then manufacturing), its products become cheaper. This creates more disposable income for people to spend on new products and services, so jobs are created in new sectors. With a rising population generating increasing demand for goods and services that require human labor, it follows that there will be more and more jobs created. For example, from 1760 to 1850 (the Industrial Revolution) the population in the United States grew from 1.6 million to 23.2 million. So there were more jobs because there were more people creating demand in the economy for things that still required significant human labor to produce, transport, sell, and repair.

What is different about the technologies emerging now from academia and tech companies large and small is the extent to which they can substitute for or eliminate jobs that previously only humans could do. Over the course of thousands of years, human brain was replaced by animal power, then wind and water power, then steam, internal combustion and electric motors. But the human brain and human hands — with their capabilities to perceive, move in and manipulate unstructured environments, process information, make decisions, and communicate with other people — had no substitute. The technologies emerging today — artificial intelligence fed by big data and the internet of things and robotics made practical by cheap sensors and massive processing power — change the equation. Many of the tasks that simply had to be done by humans will in the coming decades fall within the capabilities of these emerging technologies.

A rebuttal of the most common arguments against a future of technological unemployment.