Who Do Machines Work For?

Who Do Machines Work For?
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File

The march of technological progress that brought American workers so far seems in recent decades to have left them behind, leaving technologists, economists, and politicians to ponder why this time might be different. Economic historian Carl Benedikt Frey answers that question with one of his own: different than what? In The Technology Trap, Frey argues that the detrimental effects of labor-replacing technologies near the turn of the twenty-first century have differed from the gains created by labor-enabling technologies in the twentieth, but mirror closely the labor replacement in the first Industrial Revolution at the start of the nineteenth, another era in which workers struggled.

“The extent to which labor-saving technologies will cause dislocation depends on whether they are enabling or replacing,” writes Frey. “Replacing technologies render jobs and skills redundant. Enabling technologies, in contrast, make people more productive in existing tasks or create entirely new jobs for them.”

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