The Robots Aren’t Coming For Your Job–Get Back To Work!

robots taking jobs
A Robot Taking a Job
Image: Sebastian Lund

What I like is something that surprises me.

If it goes against a generally accepted principal, something that gets repeated so often that we stop questioning it, even better.

Robots taking jobs is a perfect example. In this article from Wired magazine by James Surowiecki (remember ‘Wisdom of Crowds‘?) explains why, while robots have started doing many jobs humans currently do (especially low-skilled jobs) there are plenty of other jobs that are being created in the larger economy.

We usually think of the supposed impending robot takeover of jobs as a tech issue, but if we look at the **actual** economic data about some of the assumptions we seem to be collectively making, we get another picture entirely.

I wanted to point Digital Media Minute readers at the article, despite the fact that it’s more about economics than tech, for exactly that reason.

Here are some of the reasons why at least so far we might have less to worry about than we think:

First, productivity–even in the manufacturing sector–hasn’t been rising as fast as it would be if the process of ‘robots taking all the jobs’ had really begun to any significant degree.

Second, unemployment is very low historically, and wage growth is rising faster than inflation and productivity. Wouldn’t be happening if all the jobs were going to robots.

Third, people moving from job to job (job churn) as robots supposedly take over just isn’t happening, and in fact is at a historic low.

An economist who’s been a proponent of the idea that automation will usher in a ‘second machine age’ puts it this way in the article:

“If I had to do it over again, I would put more emphasis on the way technology leads to structural changes in the economy, and less on jobs, jobs, jobs. The central phenomenon is not net job loss. It’s the shift in the kinds of jobs that are available.”

The article argues that the drop in US Manufacturing jobs in the last 20 or so years hasn’t been about automation anywhere near as much as it has been about Chinese manufacturing displacing US manufacturing.

The article ends by pointing out that you can’t mourn the supposed ‘secular stagnation’ that our economy has been going through and be simultaneously afraid that the robots are taking all the jobs.

If it happens as many people fear, the overall effect on the economy–a big rise in GDP, huge productivity gains, etc.–would be a huge positive, not negative.

The full article is definitely worth a read. Back to our regularly schedule tech-obsessed content tomorrow!

Chill: Robots Won’t Take All Our Jobs