Employment challenges – Losing jobs to technology
Employment is top of all political agendas. And unfortunately unemployment remains at stubbornly high levels across Europe and in other economies. Just read Race Against the Machine by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.
The key tenet of the books is set out in Chapter One: ‘The root of our problem is not that we’re in a Great Recession, or a Great Stagnation, but rather we are in the early throes of a Great Restructuring. Our technologies are racing ahead but many of ours skills and organisations are lagging behind. So it’s urgent that we understand these phenomena, discuss their implications, and come up with strategies that allow human workers to race ahead with machines instead of against them’.
The authors have noted that post the most recent recessions in the US the usual steep increases in employment have not occurred. We are hearing the arguments about problems with outsourcing, offshoring, non competitive rates of taxation (in which context Ireland is often mentioned), etc. – but Mcafee and Brynjolfsson do not believe the impact of technology is properly understood or properly articulated. Hence the need for the book.
Very much think the reference to Kurzweil and the need to understand/ appreciate exponential growth (which is slow at first) is very relevant. The authors and Kuzweil believe we are only now entering the steep part of the exponential growth.
Computers taking on the big issues
Pattern recognition and complex communication were seen as being beyond computers and therefore protection a significant domain of work for humans. However developments in the areas of driverless cars (Google) and language translation (IBM/ ) would seem to counter this.
Am a little surprise that the authors have led in with much of the negatives and left the positives to the final Chapter: The Digital Frontier. They explain their rationale for doing so – but I would still prefer to have seen more of the positives upfront in the book.
Agenda for action – including driving employment
The authors propose an agenda for action (in chapter 4) and it is interesting to consider this in an Irish and global context. Many of the challenges are the same – some more important locally.
Rec 1 – Invest more in education – pay better teachers more. Agreed – when we agree a mechanism for removing poor teachers.
Rec 2 – remove tenure for teachers. Agreed (actually essential at all levels)
Rec 3 – separate education and assessment. We have this – although current reforms plan to mess this up.
Rec 4 – increase numbers of class days for students. agreed – year is too short (to many vacations)
Rec 5 – encourage skilled immigrants – we have this underway
Rec 6 – teach entrepreneurship – major gaps in Irish education – recently referenced by John Purdy, this years Entrepreneur of the Year (Industry)
Rec 7 – visas for founder entrepreneurs – making progress
Rec 8 – create packages for startups – more work required
Rec 9 – lower govt barriers to business creation – significant issue
Rec 10 – invest in country infrastructure – roads and broadband. Some good progress made in Ireland. Gov’t committed to addressing broadband blackspots
Rec 11 – More funding for basic research – YES
Rec 12 – Preserve labour flexibility. Insufficient in Ireland – increasing EU influence
Rec 13 – Make hiring more attractive than technology. Definitively not the case at present.
Rec 14 – Decouple health benefits from jobs: not traditionally an issue in Ireland. But significantly rising health insurance costs may give rise to coupling.
Rec 15 – Don’t rush to regulate new network business. EU pushing this agenda in wrong direction
Rec 16 – Eliminate home mortgage subsidy. Now at standard rate. May be impacting mobility between different parts of Ireland.
Rec 17 – Reduce implicit subsidies to financial services. Very significant at present – as banking being rebuilt/ refloated. Is an issue.
Rec 18 – Reform the patent system – no comment
Rec 19 – Shorten copyright periods – will be a tough call
Not sure that the action list caught the best of the book. The messages are right – society and employment are changing. Technology is and will have a huge impact. Work with the technology, leverage the technology, promote innovation – and it can work out. Those who fight the technology or fail to understand will fail. Plenty innovations will fail – but only some have to succeed.