Winning the Jobs War by Embracing Smart Machines

Comments Off on Winning the Jobs War by Embracing Smart Machines
Winning the Jobs War by Embracing Smart Machines

Predictions 30 years ago had America’s GDP falling behind Japan’s and Germany’s.  Those predictions proved to be dramatically wrong because they failed to take into account America’s ingrained entrepreneurial spirit.  That drive led to innovations that re-ignited the economy, not just in the U.S., but around the globe.

Much of the innovative technology that is now poised to reassert America as the leader in job creation is what Harvard’s Clayton Christenson calls “disruptive,” because of the way it supplants existing models and solutions with more productive ones that tend to be dismissed by incumbents in the earliest stages.

One reason these technologies are often dismissed is the perception that the more productive technology will cause a net loss of jobs across the economy.  This fear sprang up at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution as new machines were able to outpace the physical labor of humans.  Many saw what they believed was the potential for technology to make humans obsolete.  However, as history has shown, this is not what happened. 

As the application of steam power increased throughout industry, more human workers were actually needed, not fewer.  But instead of being needed for their raw physical strength, other uniquely human skills were leveraged, such as locomotion, dexterity, coordination, and perception, as well as the important mental skills of communication, pattern matching, and creativity.For more than 200 years, as technology eliminated old jobs, new ones were created.  Even as millions of jobs became automated, there were more Americans holding jobs at the end of each decade leading up to the end of the 20th century.1 

One industry where this effect can be seen in a profound way is farming.  In the early 1900s, half of the American population was employed in farming.  Today, farming has become incredibly efficient, leading to the U.S. being a huge exporter of food — and yet now, just 3 percent of all jobs are in farming.

However, on the plus side, a massive food industry has grown up involving processing plants, distribution centers, transportation, and grocery stores.  For each of these entities, there are sales and marketing departments, accounting functions, and a variety of other support services.  There is also a large industry that employs workers to manufacture, sell, and service the mechanical devices that replaced the farm workers.

So, although it’s easy to look into the future and see technology replacing greater numbers of jobs by doing them more cheaply than humans, history has shown that in the long run, technology has driven job creation — and there’s no reason to believe this principle won’t hold true in the future of “smart machines...

To continue reading, become a paid subscriber for full access.
Already a Trends Magazine subscriber? Login for full access now.

Subscribe for as low as $195/year

  • Get 12 months of Trends that will impact your business and your life
  • Gain access to the entire Trends Research Library
  • Optional Trends monthly CDs in addition to your On-Line access
  • Receive our exclusive "Trends Investor Forecast 2015" as a free online gift
  • If you do not like what you see, you can cancel anytime and receive a 100% full refund