Sunday, November 6, 2011

Book Reviews: Race Agains the Machine

"Robots Are Coming to Take Your Job
Are you a truck driver? How about a retail clerk, bank teller, tax preparer? Or even a doctor, lawyer, or accountant? If so, a robot may be coming to take your job away in the near future.
That is the premise of a new e-book called “Race Against the Machine” by MIT economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, which is available on Amazon. In their book, they argue that our current unemployment problems are not just due to job outsourcing, but also to the rapid pace of technology, and most people’s inability to keep up with it.
In the past, technological innovations tended to destroy jobs when they were first introduced. The invention of the grain thresher ended employment for 25% of the agricultural workers that had been needed to bring in the crops. But there has always been a net gain of jobs in the long run, as new technologies created jobs in fields that had not existed before. 
In their book, Brynjolfsson and McAfee make the case that these days, machines are increasingly able to perform tasks in which humans were once unquestioned masters. And corporations are eager to replace workers, with their irritating need for pay, health care, and retirement plans, with robots and computers who will work 24 hours a day without complaining, and in many cases do a job much better than humans can. This is leading to a situation ..."
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"More Jobs Predicted for Machines, Not People

A faltering economy explains much of the job shortage in America, but advancing technology has sharply magnified the effect, more so than is generally understood, according to two researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The automation of more and more work once done by humans is the central theme of “Race Against the Machine,” an e-book...
“Many workers, in short, are losing the race against the machine,” the authors write.
Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist and director of the M.I.T. Center for Digital Business, and Andrew P. McAfee, associate director and principal research scientist at the center, are two of the nation’s leading experts on technology and productivity. The tone of alarm in their book is a departure for the pair, whose previous research has focused mainly on the benefits of advancing technology.
Indeed, they were originally going to write a book titled, “The Digital Frontier,” about the “cornucopia of innovation that is going on,” Mr. McAfee said. Yet as the employment picture failed to brighten in the last two years, the two changed course to examine technology’s role in the jobless recovery.
The authors are not the only ones recently to point to the job fallout from technology. In the current issue of the McKinsey Quarterly, W. Brian Arthur, an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute, warns that technology is quickly taking over service jobs, following the waves of automation of farm and factory work. “This last repository of jobs is shrinking — fewer of us in the future may have white-collar business process jobs — and we have a problem,” Mr. Arthur writes...

Technology has always displaced some work and jobs. Over the years, many experts have warned — mistakenly — that machines were gaining the upper hand. In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes warned of a “new disease” that he termed “technological unemployment,” the inability of the economy to create new jobs faster than jobs were lost to automation..."
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