May 3, 2017 - Economy

How automation could endanger capitalism

Jens Meyer / AP

Many technologists and futurists are concerned about how artificial intelligence and automation will affect capitalism, according to a survey of more than 1,400 experts released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

What they found: "The trajectory of technology will overwhelm labor markets, killing more jobs than it creates," said 30 percent of those polled. But 70 percent of people were more optimistic, saying that the overall benefits of coming automation would outweigh the costs, while still expressing concerns that the costs will be high.

Why they're pessimistic: The experts argued that the coming wave of technological progress will revolutionize the economy in ways previous productivity booms haven't. They worry that even as society gets richer as a result, the social dislocations caused by too much leisure time and rising wealth inequality could be devastating.

Cory Doctorow, activist-in-residence at MIT Media Lab and co-owner of Boing Boing: "It's an article of faith that automation begets more jobs [than it] displaces (in the long run); but this is a 'theory-free' observation based on previous automation booms. The current automation is based on 'general purpose' technologies . . . and there's good reason to believe that this will be more disruptive, and create fewer new jobs, than those that came before."

Nathaniel Borenstein, chief scientist at Mimecast: "The 'jobs of the future' are likely to be performed by robots. The question isn't how to train people for nonexistent jobs, it's how to share the wealth in a world where we don't need most people to work."

Richard Stallman, President of the Free Software Foundation: "There won't be jobs for most people a few decades from now, and that's what really matters. As for the skills for the employed fraction of advanced countries, I think they will be difficult to teach. You could get better at them by practice, but you couldn't study them much."

John Sniadowski, a systems architect for TrueBox: "The skill sets which could have been taught will be superseded by AI and other robotic technology. By the time the training programs are widely available, the required skills will no longer be required. The whole emphasis of training must now be directed towards personal life skills development rather than the traditional working career-based approach. There is also the massive sociological economic impact of general automation and AI that must be addressed to redistribute wealth and focus life skills at lifelong learning."

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