Automation Nation

Will technology cost us our jobs?

For centuries people have worried that technological progress will create unemployment. I’ve written before how the factory of the future will have a bunch of robots, a person, and a dog: the person is there to feed the dog, and the dog is there to make sure the person doesn’t touch the machines. But it’s not just manufacturing anymore: massive online computer courses threaten university professors; automated trading algorithms have eliminated many floor exchange jobs; there are even automated burger-flippers.

James Joyce observed this when he wrote Ulysses: Leopold Bloom observes how hard it is to steer a tramway, and imagines an invention to make it easier. Of course, Bloom notes, the operator would lose his job, but then another fellow would get a job making the new invention. Technology makes us more efficient, but it displaces workers in the process.

Technological progress is inevitable. It makes all of us better off collectively but makes some of us worse off in the process. The key is to help those displaced by the process–through retraining or pensions–without stifling the incentives for growth.

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
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