Technology versus man is not only a theme found in literature, such as when the scientist, Frankenstein, created the monster who came alive and turned on the scientist, but is also a theme found in the real-life world of American economy. The Economist is a weekly newspaper focusing on politics and business news and opinion. It ran an article called “Into the Unknown” which put forth the idea that changes in technology that destroy jobs can also create new ones. The machine (created by man) will not necessarily turn on the man to destroy him by taking away his means of making a living. Though the machine may eliminate one means of making a living, in so doing it may create a number of new means. When technology starts to eliminate jobs, it also creates an opportunity to profit from the creation of new jobs.
“Into the Unknown” says the fear that a rise in technology would cause a decline in jobs is not a new one. In 1929 American economist Stuart Chase in his book Men and Machines, made the prediction that the creation of machines to do the work that man once did would soon destroy the American economy. The machines would go on producing the same amount of product, but jobless people would not have the money to buy the product. He felt that this economic disaster was just around the corner. Time has proven him wrong according to this article. What Chase didn’t understand was that the machine that destroyed one job set the course for the creation of new, possibly unthought-of jobs.
Economic predictions are often wrong and short-sighted. Even short-term labor-market predictions can be wrong as seen in the 1988 example of the twenty occupations that the government predicted would suffer the most job losses between 1988 and 2000. Half of those occupations gained jobs instead of lost. The fear of out-sourcing jobs to other countries is another modern day economic fear according this article; but the author feels out-sourcing could be a way of getting rid of less valuable jobs and then using those workers to do more valuable jobs. Retraining workers and remembering that human desire for new technology will help keep Americans working. The idea that changes in technology that destroy jobs can create new ones is not accepted by everyone.
Two hundred years ago in England a group called the Luddites – 19th-century English textile workers – revolted against industrialization by sabotaging mechanical looms. They felt these looms made it possible to replace them with less-skilled, low-wage workers, leaving them without work. An English economist of that day, David Ricardo, was the first to predict that technology would result in unemployment. There have been many others that have agreed with that prediction – economists such as John Maynard, Wassily Leontief, Pater Drucker, and Stuart Chase. Yet despite massive mechanization and automation, the U.S. economy has kept creating jobs. These fears are still being advanced today by people such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew P. McAfee.
If Stuart Chase thought economic disaster was just around the corner, these men believe we have turned that corner. They believe automation is replacing people faster than the economy can create jobs. Catherine Mann, who is quoted in The Economist article, disagrees with this assessment. She says that Information Technology (IT) jobs have risen from 1999-2003 (Behrens 246). IT jobs, such as health information experts, machine-to-machine communications enablers, and outsourcing/offshoring managers, are increasing. Ms. Mann actually predicts an IT labor shortage (Behrens 246). Is America on the brink of economic disaster due to IT replacing men with machines, or is IT actually producing more jobs than it is taking away as the theme states?
History would cause one to believe that the economy will adjust as it always has, and new jobs will be generated; yet a new variable could prove that wrong. America’s gross domestic product has grown 75% since 2009, yet unemployment has hovered above 9% since the same date. This would indicate that Stuart Chase and his kind are right. The new variable is Moore’s Law – microprocessors double their performance every eighteen months. They have been doing this ever since they were introduced in 1958. To illustrate this growth, if one grain of rice was placed on a chessboard square and then doubled on the second square and then that amount was doubled on the third square, by the time all sixty-four squares were filled, the amount of rice would be equal to Mount Everest.
Simply put, computers have grown far more powerful over the past fifty years. An example of this is the technological advancement in pattern recognition which now surpasses human capability. This is seen in autonomous vehicles and voice recognition software. Over time, a well-functioning economy should adjust to technological unemployment, but it’s important that workers learn new skills and new business models be invented.
As the article states, computer professionals have learned that maintaining standard business-software packages is no longer lucrative, but tailoring business software and services is. There is not a big supply of IT graduates to recruit and train in America. Therefore, companies have to retrain their employees in these sought-after skills (Behrens 246). When technology starts to eliminate jobs, it also creates an opportunity to profit from the creation of new jobs.
Even though it is a possibility that we have actually turned the corner in our economy and that technology is actually eliminating jobs faster than they can be created, it is not the time to throw hands in the air and give up. It would be good to remember that technology has created jobs today that would not have been dreamed of twenty-five to fifty years ago. Who knows what jobs will be available twenty-five to fifty years from now?