Brain work may be going the way of manual work

Source: Economist, May 2013

Two things are clear.

  1. The first is that smart machines are evolving at breakneck speed. Moore’s law—that the computing power available for a given price doubles about every 18 months—continues to apply. This power is leaping from desktops into people’s pockets. More than 1.1 billion people own smartphones and tablets. Manufacturers are putting smart sensors into all sorts of products.
  2. The second is that intelligent machines have reached a new social frontier: knowledge workers are now in the eye of the storm

Two academics at MIT’s Sloan Business School, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, have taken a surprisingly Vonnegutish view on this: surprising because management theorists like to be on the side of the winners and because MIT is one of the great strongholds of techno-Utopianism.

In “Race Against the Machine”, their 2011 book, they predict that many knowledge workers are in for a hard time. There is a good chance that technology may destroy more jobs than it creates. There is an even greater chance that it will continue to widen inequalities. Technology is creating ever more markets in which innovators, investors and consumers—not workers—get the lion’s share of the gains. The Brynjolfsson-McAfee thesis explains one of the most puzzling aspects of the modern economy: why so much technological creativity can co-exist with stagnating wages and mass unemployment.

… the purpose of education systems, and the skills and knowledge that they impart, will need to be rethought: “chalk and talk” instruction will be done best by machines, freeing teachers to become more like individual coaches to their pupils.


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