New technologies are changing the labor market



    In the science fiction film (based on Isaac Asimov’s book) “I, Robot,” the father of the protagonist lost his job due to the introduction of robots in production. And not only he alone, the film shows a whole depressed world of the future. A future in which people massively lost their jobs, because computers and robots did this job much better, faster and cheaper. You will say that something similar has already happened in human history, and over time the situation has improved, people have relearned and adapted. However, today, now, there is a "creeping" relapse - the "technique" again began to take away work from people. And what's more, forecasts are not even encouraging.

    All of us have long been accustomed to robots in production, and even fully automated enterprises are no longer new to us. Today, in the US and Europe, specialized software is actively crowding out people from the tourism business and retail sales, and even replacing government officials. MIT School professor Erik Brynjolfsson, together with researcher Andrew McAfee, argue that the widespread adoption of automated systems, specialized software and robots has already led to a significant slowdown in US employment growth. In a number of their works and interviews, the authors advocatethe point of view according to which we are not expecting a “brave new world”, in which automation and robotization increase the welfare of the entire population. Researchers believe that instead, developed countries will face massive unemployment, and not only manufacturing and the tourism business will suffer the most from automation, but also education, medicine, and legal and financial services.



    Researchers emphasize that high technology is not evil at all. They allow many professions to be made safer, easier and more productive. But at the same time, the same technologies leave many other professions behind, completely depreciating them. This process affects already medium and even small production due to the creation of new, cheaper robots.capable of performing a wide range of tasks. The same can be said about the areas of government and the provision of various services. And the matter is not limited to robots only. Thanks to the development of software, the cheapening of electronics and the availability of storage for large amounts of data, today many routine tasks can be automated. This has already led to the disappearance of many jobs in the customer service and postal service in the United States. In some cases, automation reaches such a level that "the program communicates with another program, as a result, new digital processes are created." All this is the reason for the growth of labor productivity without increasing the number of jobs (employment). And supporters of this point of view warn that the development and implementation of elements of artificial intelligence can affect even those jobs,

    Pros and cons


    Opponents of Brinjelsson and McAfee object that new jobs will be created simultaneously with the automation of various jobs. For example, at the forum last April, Aethon’s owner Aldo Zini said: “We allow people to be replaced in jobs that they don’t want and don’t have to do” (Aethon manufactures robots for transporting drugs and food , and garbage in hospitals).

    Aaron Edsinger of Redwood Robotics(develops robotic manipulators), took a compromise position on this issue. He does not position robots as a substitute for man, but as an additional tool for human workers: “We believe that our products make the work of workers more efficient and lead to increased productivity of enterprises.”

    Mick Mountz, founder of Kiva Systems , believes that his products do not deprive people of their work, since the main customers are large companies that are developing so fast that they do not have time to hire employees. In addition, it allows fast-growing companies to survive by reducing overhead costs. Which involves using robots instead of humans ...

    However, Brinjölsson and McAfee argue that due to the high pace of technology development, job destruction is faster than new ones. They believe that this is one of the reasons for stagnation in the US economy and an increase in the income gap of different segments of the population. And this, in their opinion, is also happening in other developed countries.

    The opinion of Eric and Andrew is not unfounded, it is confirmed by numbers. In economics, one of the measures of labor productivity is the quantity of production (or its value expression) created by the employee per unit of time. The graph below shows the dynamics of labor productivity and employment in the United States:



    This graph clearly demonstrates the growth of labor productivity and the welfare of the country, which led to the intensive creation of jobs from the end of World War II until the early 2000s. But in the last 10 years, stagnation of employment has been observed with a continuous increase in productivity. Researchers are sure that this is due to high-tech progress. However, their opponents also do not speak up: in 2011, a study was conductedaccording to which, in Brazil, South Korea, Germany, China and the USA, employment increased despite the increase in the use of industrial robots. True, this study took into account only the most dangerous and highly specialized models of robots that cannot work next to people. Much more modern and safe autonomous robots that can greatly affect the overall statistics of employment in these countries were not taken into account in this study.

    Proponents of automation and robotization cite the historical experience of previous technological revolutions and argue that despite the loss of jobs by some workers, the overall economic effect of introducing technological innovations turned out to be positive. The following statistics are given as an example: about 100 years ago, about 70% of workers in the United States were employed in agriculture, today only 2% of them. The reason for this is the introduction of tractors. Another cited example: in the post-war period, about 30% of workers in the United States were employed in production, in our time there are about 10%, which is associated with the automation of enterprises.

    Such logical relationships usually look very convincing and taken for granted. Rodney Brooks, Founder of Rethink Robotics, believes that autonomous robots will revitalize and strengthen the economy, as computers did 30 years ago.

    Brinjölfsson and McAfee, by contrast, argue that immediate historical experience refutes such claims. In support of their position, they give another graph:



    Here, the dynamics of changes in gross domestic product and median income level is displayed . Brinjölfsson comments on this picture as follows: “This is a great paradox of our time - labor productivity is at the highest level, innovations are being introduced faster than ever, but at the same time, our income is falling and the number of jobs is falling. "People are losing because technology is developing so fast that we cannot keep up with them."



    By the way, recentlyBritish scientists by researchers from Oxford was carried out a study , the results of which proved to be very pessimistic: the next 20 years, nearly 45% of jobs in the United States with a high degree of probability can be automated / computerized. The British believe that this process will proceed in two stages: first, computers will crowd out people in the most critical areas, such as logistics, manufacturing and administrative management. This will be followed by services, sales and construction. Further, the automation speed will slow down due to the “difficult” professions for machines. However, with the development of artificial intelligence, a new wave of automation will follow that will affect science, engineering and art.

    So what is the reason?


    Economists who disagree with the findings of Brinjölsson and McAfee point out that there are several possible explanations for the gaps between labor productivity, employment and median income. For example, the financial crisis and the decline in international trade. It is more likely that this is a consequence of a whole complex of events and trends, and not just technological progress. In other words, no one knows for sure why the growth of employment stopped, but many do not agree with the explanation of Brinjölsson and McAfee.

    One of the opposing economists, David Autor, however, notes that computer technology has changed the labor market, and far from all the changes have been for the better. Automation has affected a number of professions whose representatives previously belonged to the middle class. As a result, today there was a polarization in the labor market for highly and low-skilled professions (with appropriate pay), and the middle class was "exhausted". However, Otor does not agree that high technology negatively affects the entire labor market as a whole. And even if this is true, then historical experience suggests that this is a temporary phenomenon, a transition period.

    But history does not provide an answer to the question, when will modern high technologies create enough jobs to compensate for the unemployment generated by technology itself? And it’s not at all a fact that in this case the story will repeat itself. A scenario is possible in which the employment problem for those who lose their jobs due to automation will not be solved.

    What's next?


    Even if Brinjelfsson and McAfee are wrong about the reasons for the decline in employment, it is difficult to dismiss the fact that high technology is increasingly destroying the middle class and widening the gap between rich and poor. Indeed, the lowest paid jobs are so far more efficient and profitable to “trust” people, while the highest paid jobs are not yet possible for robots and computers. Say what you like, but automation not only improves the economy, but also “throws to the sidelines” many people who have to relearn in order not to sink to the bottom.

    However, to the complete disappearance of professions traditionally belonging to the middle class (of course, this does not apply to Russia), it is still far away. And the reason for this is the huge difficulties in creating artificial intelligence: modern robots do not adapt very well to abnormal changes in the workflow. The advantage of man over machines lies precisely in flexibility and versatility. And, despite the pessimistic conclusions of Brinjölsson and McAfee, most likely the USA and Europe in the next 50 years need not worry about the massive unemployment of the “golden mean” of the population, the middle class.

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