Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Have We Reached a Stage at Which Technology is Destroying More Jobs Than It's Creating?

For a long time, “because the American people were the most educated in the world, they were in the best position to invent, be entrepreneurial, and produce goods and services using advanced technologies,” Harvard professors Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz assert in their 2008 book, The Race Between Education and Technology. For those born from the 1870s until about 1950, the authors found, every decade witnessed an uptick of about 0.8 years of education. In other words, “during that 80-year period the vast majority of parents had children whose educational attainment greatly exceeded theirs.” But then something happened: “Educational change between the generations … came to an abrupt standstill.”

The timing couldn’t have been worse. To perform practically any function in the Skechers warehouse, “you need to use a computer,” Benzeevi says. “It takes new skills.” Yet relatively few people have them. Even fewer are prepared for the kinds of jobs that may come next.

In the future, “it is a safe bet that the human labor market will center on three kinds of work,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Frank Levy and Harvard’s Richard Murnane write in “Dancing with Robots,” a report issued in June by the Washington-based think tank Third Way. The first is solving unstructured problems. The second is acquiring, making sense of, and communicating new information. Computers aren’t good at either of these tasks. The third is non-routine manual labor (like schlepping furniture), which also can’t be tackled by a computer.

The first two will undoubtedly pay well. The third will not. “In this context,” Levy and Murnane conclude, “the nation’s challenge is to sharply increase the fraction of American children with the foundational skills needed to develop job-relevant knowledge and to learn efficiently over a lifetime.” As daunting as all of this is, it isn’t what concerns some the most.

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