“Automate or Perish”
A number of interesting news pieces have crossed my radar this week – and most with a common theme: Automation.
From new VCs using algorithms to score (and hopefully predict?) a successful investment opportunity (Correlation Ventures), to new start-ups using metrics across social media platforms to “match” a job seeker to his or her dream job in tech or design (see Path.to), and even a write-up about technical automation and whether American workers are losing their jobs to machines (“The Future of Work”), left me to ask the question at what point do our advances with technology make our own human capabilities obsolete?
One entrepreneur / authors view is to “Automate or Perish.” While skeptics weigh in on this issue and note facts like the U.S. economic output has grown since 2007 while the number of jobs has fallen, the truth lies in the fact that now more people have greater access to “affordable, powerful tools that can help them and their businesses become more productive.” This, in turn, doesn’t necessarily destroy an economy altogether, it just shifts jobs to different sectors (in this case, “Among the 10 fastest-growing new job categories between 2009 and 2011, seven have the word “computer” or “software” in them.” – from Technology Review.)
So, what do we have to look forward to in this automated future? Perhaps a bit of a “digital Athens” (from researcher Andrew McAfee):
What is the optimistic view?
Erik Brynjolfsson came up with a great phrase: “digital Athens.” The Athenian citizens had lives of leisure; they got to participate in democracy and create art. That was largely because they had slaves to do the work. Okay, I don’t want human slaves, but in a very, very automated and digitally productive economy you don’t need to work as much, as hard, with as many people, to get the fruits of the economy. So the optimistic version is that we finally have more hours in our week freed up from toil and drudgery.
Do you see evidence for a digital Athens on the street, in the real economy?
No. What we are seeing—and this was pretty much unanticipated—is that the people at the top of the skill, wage, and income distribution are working more hours. We have this preference for doing more work. The people who have a lot of leisure—I think in too many cases it’s involuntary. It’s unemployment or underemployment. That is not my version of digital Athens.
What do you think about this automated future? Do you like it? Does it worry you?
Do we have the luxury to be indifferent…?