The Pew Research Center has been marking the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web with a series of reports on the Internet and our digital lives. I’ve discussed two of the reports, first The Web at 25 in the US, followed by Digital Life in 2025. I’d now like to discuss a third Pew report, - AI, Robotics and the Future of Jobs, - which was published in early August.
The impact of technology on jobs is a very important subject. “The economic challenge of the future will not be producing enough. It will be providing enough good jobs,” wrote Harvard professor and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers in a recent WSJ article. These concerns are not new. In a 1930 essay, English economist John Maynard Keynes wrote: “We are being afflicted with a new disease of which some readers may not yet have heard the name, but of which they will hear a great deal in the years to come - namely, technological unemployment. This means unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour.”
As it turned out, the 20th century saw the creation of many new jobs and industries. But, fears of technological unemployment have been rising in the emerging digital economy, as our increasingly smart machines are being applied to activities requiring intelligence and cognitive capabilities that not long ago were viewed as the exclusive domain of humans.
The Pew Research report explored the impact of AI and robotics on the future of employment based on the responses of nearly 1,900 experts to a few open-ended questions, including: “Will networked, automated, artificial intelligence (AI) applications and robotic devices have displaced more jobs than they have created by 2025?; and “To what degree will AI and robotics be parts of the ordinary landscape of the general population by 2025?”