I recently appeared on the TV program “Ideas in Action” to discuss the impact of robots and automation on the future job market and economy. The show will air on PBS stations at various times beginning this week.
WordPress won’t let me embed the video, but you can watch the show here.
I thought it was a very interesting discussion, and at a full half hour, was the most in-depth treatment I’ve seen so far on this issue.
Robin Hanson, who appeared on the show with me, comments on his blog. Robin and I had an interesting mini-debate about the economic implications of intelligent machines a while back.
Libertarian economist Arnold Kling (and Robin Hanson fan) also comments over at EconLog.
4 thoughts on “TV Appearance – “Ideas in Action: Will Robots Take Our Jobs?””
In the “Ideas in Action” discussion, I was hoping you’d bring up the “horse” argument to suggest why the human job market may be shrinking for good (e.g., “what’s different this time”). I can’t find it in your book but thought I’ve heard you use it in the past. In short, as reminded in the Brynjolfsson/McAfee book (10% in), they quote Wassily Leontief (1983): “The role of humans as the most important factor of production is bound to diminish in the same way that the role of horses in agricultural production was first diminished and then eliminated by the introduction of tractors.” Later they quote data from Gregory Clark’s “Farewell to Alms” about when and how horsepower was obsoleted in most of the modern world.
As mechanical machines obsoleted muscle and horse power, computing machines are likely to obsolete human brain power in remaining production roles.
I wonder what Robin Hanson would make of this argument. He’d probably agree, but suggest the effective timing of such a disruption is many years out. To which, I’m reminded of the Robert Anton Wilson (RICH Economy) position (and Bertrand Russell), that jobs are overrated and people should actively work to obsolete their roles in production. I think these are the more interesting/vital discussions.
Professor Hanson is the perfect example of your typical economist. He can only see automation as a linear growth. He also sees the early 20th century mechanization boom equivalent to the AI growth of today. The mechanization replaced the bone and muscle of man and animal. Today’s automation has reached peripheral nervous system, spinal cord, midbrain and cerebellum. AI is currently encroaching into the higher brain functions. Martin is correct; the jobs that are left have only until the machine can do those higher brain functions.
The professor offered the typical solution to full automation — everyone becomes capitalists by owning the capital (automated production and services). Why bother? Our machines will have reduced almost everything to zero values. Wouldn’t society be far better off to restructure our society/government like in the novels: “Forever Pleasure: A Utopian Novel”, ”Excession” or Asimov’s “The Robots of Dawn”?
“I have been doing some shopping this past week and I bought you some things, here put these on, slave,” as she handed him a pair of pink panties. Jerry might have enjoyed this if it hadn’t been slapped guite so hard.