The impact of technology on employment

This article is for my 'Concepts and collaboration in DH' module for Dr Donna Alexander (DH2001) for an assignment which asks we bring up the big questions that we are faced with in our minor subject - mine being economics.

  1. One very big question in economics today is how is technology impacting employment today. Is it positive or negative or can it be both ? Is today's technology worsening or improving the employment rates of tomorrow? I will look at these questions in detail and see what other economists have said on the matter.
  2. Technology had begun to come into the workplace a few decades ago and has yet to be kicked out. In many peoples eyes, technology makes work-life easier. Jobs are finished quicker and more efficiently. In a video by a NewsHive contestant, (1) they interview people asking them about their views on technology in relation to work. Many said that technology has facilitated the work in a dramatic way making it much easier and much more efficient. They believe that research methods to access the resources have been impacted and improved hugely by technology.
  3. DWF3.0 NewsHive Contestant: "Tech-Knowledge-Y: Future Jobs for NYC Youth"
  4. Some looked at the negative side and although it can improve efficiency there is a downside that people who haven't been taught how to use technology can't do their job to a certain extent without getting the right training. This training, as well as equipment, makes technology in the workplace financially expensive.
  5. But does this mean that those who detest technology or simply can't understand or use it will become obsolete ? In an article entitled 'How technology is destroying jobs' by David Rotman (2), a very different approach is taken on when speaking of the negative effects of technology. Rotman worries that the rapid technology boost is destroying jobs quicker than it is creating them. This is clear to see when we look at sectors such as travel agents (Rapidly reducing since Ryanair set up their website in which customers could plan and book their own holiday without the help of a travel agent) and industrial manufacturing companies. This is due to the cost of running one machine to do the same job that twenty men used to do. This cost is evaluated by the wages,insurance and all other costs related to a employee against the keep up costs of a machine that is almost 100% guaranteed to give perfect results every time.
  6. Rotman shows us a chart (3) by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee that shows us that even though GDP is rising, median income levels are not. Inequality is also shown to have grown and is said that this is hollowing out the middle class completely. We can also accept that the results are inconclusive as technology was not the only factor in the decrease of employment but in years to come we will see if the digital age is destroying jobs.
  7. Eric Brynjolfsson has a TED talk entitled 'The key to growth? A race with machines' (4) in which he tells us that productivity is at an all time high despite the recession. Brynjolfsson, like Rotman, believes that GDP is very high but is lower than it should be as the digital/machine age is more about knowledge creation than product creation. He says that because of this, we are getting more and more services for free such as Wikipedia, Google and Facebook. Because these things are free, they do not have what is called a 'weight' which contributes to calculating Gross Domestic Product. But this is where Brynjolfsson differs from Rotman as he believes that these are the key to growth as opposed to the destruction of jobs and employment. He believes that machine learning is the most important invention of the digital age.
  8. Erik Brynjolfsson: The key to growth? Race with the machines
  9. In his TED talk, Brynjolfsson also goes on to speak about IBM's Watson (5). Watson improved its learning rates faster than any human has ever done and eventually was brought on to Jeoprady and beat the world Jeoprady champion. Watson has been rapidly improving and evolving and has even been considered to work in call centers as well as getting jobs in the legal, medical and banking sectors. This is a worrying taught to me as if one machine with these abilities can be created, then thousands more can be copied flawlessly. What will this mean for human workers? While technology is racing ahead, will it leave too many people behind?
  10. Now does this mean that we should all be destroying technology by taking a hammer to every computer in sight? I am in agreement with Brynjolfsson when he suggests we work with computers instead of against them. We should create programs that help humans not replace them. After all, we humans are creating tehnologies. Computers do not have a mind of their own (not yet anyway) so why are we allowing ourselves to be controlled by them ?
  11. This leads us onto Andrew McAfee's TED talk on 'What will future jobs look like?' (6). In this talk, McAfee tells that we will need fewer drivers as cars will drive themselves, need less and less call operators as Siri and Watson will be joined to work in call centers even shelf stackers jobs will be lost to technology. Our machines are fast becoming the replacement for workers at an uncontrollable rate. This is being called the new machine age by the duo. McAfee goes on to list the two main challenges that we will face in the future we have created.
  12. Andrew McAfee: What will future jobs look like?
  13. The first challenge being economic. In America, the corporate profits are at an all time high while labour levels are at the lowest yet.This is becoming a big threat to the middle class which will begin to threaten companies and businesses as no income means no splashing out on more than the bare necessities. In the near future we shouldn't be worried about robots taking our jobs and us becoming unemployed but to counteract this in the long run, McAfee suggests setting a minimum income level for all citizens which will keep people out of prisons, in schools and off the streets.
  14. The second and perhaps bigger challenge is from a society standpoint. Here, McAfee says that education is a huge factor in helping keep people in a job.With a good education, hopefully children will grow up to find an excellent job and have the ability to support a family. This will, in turn, help the economy to grow and become more equal.
  15. Other articles I have read in relation to this topic that I found helpful with my research was Kenneth Rogoffs article for the World Economics forum entitled 'The impact of technology on employment' (7) which speaks of how even chess has been wiped out (as a job opportunity) by machines and their technology. The economists article 'The effects of today's technology on tomorrow's jobs' (8) which gives a very negative prediction of the future. And finally, Nick Bunker's 'Technology may not reduce employment but still effect jobs' for the Washington center for equitable growth (9).
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