Robots, Automation Must Benefit as Many People as Possible

According to an expert at MIT, the diminishing importance of people in jobs make it necessary to change business models and education as quickly as technology is changing.

by Jordan Graham, The Boston Herald / May 26, 2015

(TNS) -- Robots on the manufacturing floor and self-driving cars are coming, bringing an incredible opportunity for wealth and productivity. But, experts say, society and employers need to make sure new technology benefits as many people as possible.

“There’s no economic law that says that everybody is going to benefit evenly, or even that everybody is going to benefit, period,” said Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the Initiative on the Digital Economy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Even as the pie gets bigger, some people may be made worse off, and that’s something we want to try to manage.”

Brynjolfsson said improvements in technology will make many jobs obsolete, as it has many times in the past.

“Some people who are doing routine information-processing work, that kind of work is going to become less valuable as machines can do more and more routine information processing, so they’re going to have to find new jobs, new skills, new things to do,” he said.

Speaking after a panel on automation at the MIT CIO Symposium last week, Brynjolfsson said it is important for society and the workforce to keep pace with technology.

“Overall, there will be more winners than losers, but there’s no automatic mechanism that makes sure every single person gets a proportional share of the growing pie,” he said.

Self-driving cars seem to be inevitable with many universities — as well as Google — working on autonomous vehicles. Earlier this month, trucking company Freightliner unveiled a self-driving tractor trailer that has already been approved to drive in Nevada. The truck still has a human in the driver’s seat, but that person’s responsibility is simply to monitor the truck’s systems.

Already, automation technology has completely changed the jobs of pilots in recent decades.

“Commercial pilots today touch the stick for an entire flight for three to seven minutes, and that’s on a tough day,” said panelist Missy Cummings, a professor at Duke University and a former fighter pilot. “It’s a problem we have not just in aviation, but in all industries, boredom is really setting in, we’ve got people who are babysitting automated systems for an extended period of time, and that’s something we don’t do very well.”

She said it won’t be long before pilots don’t even have to be in control during take-off or landing.

The diminishing importance of people in jobs like flying, driving or number crunching make it necessary to change business models and education as quickly as technology is changing, Brynjolfsson said.

“It’s certainly going to be a disruptive time,” he said. “Inequality is not inevitable, nor is it impossible.”

©2015 the Boston Herald, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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