techno dystopia or techno utopia?

Techno Dystopia or Techno Utopia?
Techno Dystopia or Techno Utopia?
Techno Dystopia or Techno Utopia?
Techno Dystopia or Techno Utopia?
Techno Dystopia or Techno Utopia?
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Volume 7, Issue 2 In Review

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  • www.thesolutionsjournal.org | March-April 2016 | Solutions | 63

    ReviewsBook Review

    Cooperstein,B.(2016). Techno-Dystopia. Solutions7(2):6367.https://thesolutionsjournal.com/article/techno-dystopia-or-techno-utopia/

    Thosejobsaregoing,andtheyaintcomingback,fromMy HometownbyBruceSpringsteen.

    ArecentUpshotpieceinThe New York TimesentitledTheGeographyofTrumpismcomparedhundredsofdemographicandeco-nomicvariablesculledfromcensusdatainanefforttounderstandthesourceofTheDonaldspoliticalsupport.Theanalysisfoundthatthecountiesmostlikelytosupporttherealestatemogulareplaceswherewhiteidentitymixeswithlong-simmeringeconomicdysfunctions.WhilehisvoterscomefromNorthandSouth,liberal,conservative,rural,andurbancommunities,[w]hattheyhaveincommonisthattheylargelymissedthegeneration-longtransitionoftheUnitedStatesfrommanufacturingandintoadiverse,information-driveneconomydeeplyintertwinedwiththerestoftheworld.But,thatonlygoessofarinexplainingTrumpssupportgiventhatupheavalsinlabormarketshavebeenbuiltintotheindustrialevolutionsincethebeginning.

    Inrecurrentcycles,eachinau-guratedbytheintroductionofnewtechnologiesandproducts,therehasbeenaconcomitantfearthatpro-ductivity-enhancingmethodswouldmakesignificantnumbersofworkersredundant,resultinginwidespread

    unemploymentontheonehand,andadeclineinaveragewagesforthosefortunateenoughtohaveajobontheother.Andperiodically,therehavebeenvoicescallingattentiontothesepossibilities.

    Forexample,inhis1930essayEconomicPossibilitiesforourGrandchildren,JohnMaynardKeyeswarnedaboutEconomicPossibilitiesforourGrandchildrenwarnedabouttheprospectofwidespreadtechno-logicalunemploymentduetoourdiscoveryofmeansofeconomizingtheuseoflaboroutrunningthepaceatwhichwecanfindnewusesforlabor.

    InAugust1949,NorbertWiener,adistinguishedprofessorofmathematicsatMIT(MassachusettsInstituteofTechnology)andapioneerinthefieldofcyberneticswrotealettertoWalterReuther,thepresidentoftheUnitedAutoworkersUnion(UAW),towarnhimthattheapplicationofmoderncomputingmachines,thenonlyintheirinfancy,totheassemblyline,wouldresultindisastrousunemploy-mentwithinadecadeortwo.WienerarguedthatthiswasinevitableandhesoundedthisalarmsothattheUAWcouldhelpitsmembersprepareforthiseventuality.Wienerevenproposedasolution:theUAWshouldtakeowner-shipofthetechnologyforrobotsandtherebybenefitfromtheverymeansthatwoulddisplaceitsmembers.

    Lessthantwodecadeslater,inMarch1964,agroupofintellectualsandactivists,whichincludedtheeconomistsRobertTheobald,RobertHeilbroner,andeventualNobellaureateGunnarMyrdal,aswellasNobelchemistLinusPaulingandcivilrightsactivistBayardRustin,sentamemorandum,The Triple Revolution,toPresidentLyndonJohnson.Alongwithrevolutionsinweaponryandhumanrights,thestatementidentifiedacyberneticsrevolutionasathreattothestabilityofmoderneconomies.Morespecifically,theywarnedthatautomaticmachineswouldresultinasystemofalmostunlimitedindustrialcapacityand,correspondingly,woulddrasticallyreducethelaborneedsoftheeconomyresultinginasignificantincreaseinstructuralunemployment.

    ThoughUSmanufacturingemploy-mentasapercentageofthelaborforcepeakedin1943andinabsolutenumbersin1979,andhasbeendeclin-ingeversince,neitherKeynesnorWienersfearsorthoseoftheAdHoc

    Techno-DystopiaorTechno-Utopia?by Bruce CoopersteinRise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Futureby Martin Ford

    The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologiesby Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

    Basic Books

  • 64 | Solutions | March-April 2016 | www.thesolutionsjournal.org

    ReviewsBook Review

    Committeematerialized,atleastinthetimeframeimagined.Thecombina-tionofgovernmentinterventionthroughfiscalandmonetarypolicy,aswellasthegrowthoftheserviceeconomy,ledtoanincrease,ratherthanadecrease,inemployment.

    Thepossibilitythattheworldandnationaleconomiescannotcreatesuf-ficientemploymentinlargeenoughnumberstosupportallthosewhomustworkhasnotdrawnsustainedattentionsincethe1960suntillately.

    ItisfearofunemploymentthatdrivespoliticiansintheOECDnations,aswellasemergingeconomiessuchasChina,India,andBrazil,toenactpolicestostimulatematerialgrowthasanalternativetodistributingthebenefitsoftechnologymoreequitably.Wealsoseetheconsequencesindemo-craticsocietieswhentheeconomydoesnotdeliverontheexpectationsofitsmembersintheriseofTrumpismintheUS.Inparallelwiththesefears,adiversesetofacademicsismakingthe

    casethatthistime,wereallyshouldbeworriedabouttheimpactoftechnol-ogyonouremploymentprospects.

    OnesuchauthorisMartinFord,acomputerengineer,entrepreneur,andauthorofRise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. Fordforeseesanexplosionintheapplica-tionofrobotsintheeconomywithdireconsequencesforemployment,drivenbytherelentlessaccelerationincomputertechnology.Thiswillresultinafundamentalshiftinthe

    Steve Jurvetson / Rodney Brooks Domo, an experimental robot designed by MIT in 2012 to interact with humans.

  • www.thesolutionsjournal.org | March-April 2016 | Solutions | 65

    ReviewsBook Review

    relationshipbetweenworkersandmachinesandchallengeoneofourmostbasicassumptionsabouttechnology:thatmachines are toolsthatincreasetheproductivityofworkers.Instead,machinesthemselvesareturn-ingintoworkers,andthelinebetweenthecapabilityoflaborandcapitalisblurringasneverbefore.

    Anticipatingtheinevitableresponsethatwehavebeenherebeforeandtheeconomywasmorethancapableofabsorbingdisplacedworkersinnewindustries,FordarguesthatthepastcenturywasaneconomicGoldilocksperiodthathasnowcometoanend.Insupportofthis,hecitesthefactthatinthefirstdecadeofthe21stcenturytheUSeconomycreatedzeronetnewjobs,somethingthathadnothappenedsincetheGreatDepressionofthe1930sandthatcon-trastsstronglywitheveryotherdecadesincetheendofWorldWarIIinwhichjobgrowthexceeded20percent.

    Healsochallengestheassumptionthatthedislocationwillbelimitedtoworkerswithlittleeducationandlower-skilllevels.Asheputsit:Whilelower-skilloccupationswillnodoubtcontinuetobeaffected,agreatmanycollege-educated,white-collaroccupationsaregoingtodiscoverthattheirjobs,too,aresquarelyinthesightsassoftwareautomationandpredictivealgorithmsadvancerapidlyincapability.Heconcludesthattheusualresponsetosuchdisruption,theacquisitionofmoreeducationandskillswillnotnecessarilyoffereffec-tiveprotectionagainstjobautomationinthefuture.

    Asanexample,hecitesradiologists,medicaldoctorswhospecializeintheinterpretationofmedicalimages.Withadvancesintheabilityofcom-puterstoanalyzeimages,itisentirelypossibletoenvisionthatradiology

    inthenearfuturewillbeperformedbymachines.Inseparatechapters,hedetailsthekindsandextentofdisruptionthatwilltransformhighereducationontheonehand,andhealthcareontheother.

    Infurthersupportofhisclaimthatthistimeisdifferent,Fordcitesseventrends:stagnantwages;adeclineinthepercentoftheeconomygoingtolaborwithacorrespondinggreatreturntocorporations;adeclineinthelaborforceparticipationrate;soar-inginequality;polarizationandtheincreaseinpart-timejobs;and,declin-ingincomesandunderemploymentofcollegegraduates.

    ThelastchapterofhisbookisentitledTowardaNewEconomicParadigm,butitisnotespeciallynew.ItisinformedbyaninsightthatgoesbacktoJohnMaynardKeynes:ifmostpeoplemusthaveajobinordertoearnincomeandtheyarereplacedbymachines,thentherewillnotbeenoughdemandfortheproductsmadebythosemachines.Thiswillresultinadecreaseinproduction,moreunemployment,evenlessdemandintheeconomy,andaviciouscircleiscreated.

    Keynesmagnumopus,The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money,waswrittentodealwiththiseventuality.Itsunderlyingideawasforgovernmenttogetmoneyintothehandsofpeoplebyjustaboutanymeanspossible.Onesuchwayistobuildpublicworks,butsoishiringpeopletoputbanknotesinbottlesandburyingthemandthenhavingotherpeopledigthemup.

    Fordspreferredwaytoputmoneyintopeopleshandsisviaexpansionofsocialinsuranceintheformofabasicincomeguarantee.ThisisanideathatcanbetracedbacktothelibertarianeconomistFriedrichHayek,proposedin

    histhree-volumeworkLaw, Legislation and Liberty,publishedbetween1973and1979.There,Hayekwrote:

    Theassuranceofacertainminimumincomeforeveryone,orasortoffloorbelowwhichnobodyneedfallevenwhenheisunabletoprovideforhimself,appearnotonlytobeawhollylegitimateprotectionagainstariskcommontoall,butaneces-sarypartoftheGreatSocietyinwhichtheindividualnolongerhasspecificclaimsonthemembersoftheparticularsmallgroupintowhichhewasborn.

    EventhoughHayekisaniconoftherightwingtherewouldbefierceresistancetoanyproposalforabasicincomeguarantee;Fordnonethelesssaysthattheconservativeargumentforabasicincomecentersonthefactthatitprovidesasafetynetcoupledwithindividualfreedomofchoice.Ratherthanhavinggovernmentintrudeintopersonaleconomicdecisions,orgetintothebusinessofdirectlyprovidingproductsandservices,theideaistogiveeveryonethemeanstogooutandparticipateinthemarket.

    Fordisparticularaboutthewayinwhichabasicincomeguaranteeshouldbeenacted.Asheputsit,Themostimportantfactorindesigningaworkableguaranteedincomeschemeisgettingtheincentivesright.Theobjectiveshouldbetoprovideauniversalsafetynetaswellasasupple-menttolowincomesbut,withoutcreatingadisincentivetoworkandtobeasproductiveaspossible.Theincomeprovidedshouldberelativelyminimal:enoughtogetby,butnotenoughtobeespeciallycomfortable.Hediscussesbutdoesnotcomedown

  • 66 | Solutions | March-April 2016 | www.thesolutionsjournal.org

    ReviewsBook Review

    oneithersidebetweenthealternativeofanunconditionalbasicincomepaidtoalladultsontheonehandandameanstestedguaranteedminimumincomesuchasanegativeincometaxpaidonlytothoseatthebottomoftheincomedistribution,ontheother.Fordwouldalsosupportandencour-ageeducation,ifonlybecauseweallbenefitwhenthepeoplearoundusaremoreeducated,butalsobecauseabettereducatedpopulationwillbepositionedtomoreconstructivelyusetheirleisuretime.

    ErikBrynjolfssonandAndrewMcAfeeareprofessorsatMITsSloanSchoolofManagement,co-directorsoftheMITInitiativeontheDigitalEconomy,andco-authorsofThe Second Machine Age: Work, Progres

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