Hominids started using primitive stone tools millions of years ago. The earliest stone tools were little more than a fractured rock, but approximately 75, years ago,  pressure flaking provided a way to make much finer work.
Are we facing a future of stagnant income and worsening inequality? Even more ominous for workers, the MIT academics foresee dismal prospects for many types of jobs as these powerful new technologies are increasingly adopted not only in manufacturing, clerical, and retail work but in professions such as law, financial services, education, and medicine.
They believe that rapid technological change has been destroying jobs faster than it is creating them, contributing to the stagnation of median income and the growth of inequality in the United States.
And, they suspect, something similar is happening in other technologically advanced countries.
Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence, according to Brynjolfsson, is a chart that only an economist could love. In economics, productivity—the amount of economic value created for a given unit of input, such as an hour of labor—is a crucial indicator of growth and wealth creation.
It is a measure of progress.
On the chart Brynjolfsson likes to show, separate lines represent productivity and total employment in the United States. For years after World War II, the two lines closely tracked each other, with increases in jobs corresponding to increases in productivity.
The pattern is clear: Then, beginning inthe lines diverge; productivity continues to rise robustly, but employment suddenly wilts. Bya significant gap appears between the two lines, showing economic growth with no parallel increase in job creation. Brynjolfsson and McAfee still believe that technology boosts productivity and makes societies wealthier, but they think that it can also have a dark side: Indeed, they are sometimes accused of being too optimistic about the extent and speed of recent digital advances.
Brynjolfsson says they began writing Race Against the Machine, the book in which they laid out much of their argument, because they wanted to explain the economic benefits of these new technologies Brynjolfsson spent much of the s sniffing out evidence that information technology was boosting rates of productivity.
But it became clear to them that the same technologies making many jobs safer, easier, and more productive were also reducing the demand for many types of human workers.
Anecdotal evidence that digital technologies threaten jobs is, of course, everywhere. Robots and advanced automation have been common in many types of manufacturing for decades. Modern automotive plants, many of which were transformed by industrial robotics in the s, routinely use machines that autonomously weld and paint body parts—tasks that were once handled by humans.
The website of a Silicon Valley startup called Industrial Perception features a video of the robot it has designed for use in warehouses picking up and throwing boxes like a bored elephant.
A less dramatic change, but one with a potentially far larger impact on employment, is taking place in clerical work and professional services.
Technologies like the Web, artificial intelligence, big data, and improved analytics—all made possible by the ever increasing availability of cheap computing power and storage capacity—are automating many routine tasks.There Are No Technology Shortcuts to Good Education.
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