When machines do your job

Researcher Andrew McAfee says advances in computing and artificial intelligence could create a more unequal society
July 13, 2012 | Source: Technology Review

Race Against the Machine, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

Are American workers losing their jobs to machines?

That was the question posed by Race Against the Machine, an influential e-book published last October by MIT business school researchers Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

The pair looked at troubling U.S. employment numbers — which have declined since the recession of 2008-2009 even as economic output has risen — and concluded that computer technology was partly to blame.

Advances in hardware and software mean it’s possible to automate more white-collar jobs, and to do so more quickly than in the past. Think of the airline staffers whose job checking in passengers has been taken by self-service kiosks. While more productivity is a positive, wealth is becoming more concentrated, and more middle-class workers are getting left behind.

What does it mean to have “technological unemployment” even amidst apparent digital plenty? Technology Review spoke to McAfee at the Center for Digital Business, part of the MIT Sloan School of Management, where as principal research scientist he studies new employment trends and definitions of the workplace.