Race Against… On Point

Erik and I were on Tom Ashbrook’s NPR show On Point today to talk about Race Against the Machine. The Web page devoted to the show is here, and the audio file of the show is here.

Tom did a great job guiding the conversation, and bringing us back to the big issue: where are all the jobs going to come from?

In the book, our short term answer answer to that question is, in a word, entrepreneurship. My longer term answer is I don’t know. As computers encroach on more and more human skills over time, I’m not sure what we’re going to need human workers for, or how many will be required.

And I don’t think the happy history of technology creating more jobs than it destroys is a great guide any more. Because all previous technologies combined have encroached only on a small set of human skills —  a small subset of the things an employer might hire a person to do.

The digital machines of today and (especially) tomorrow are encroaching on many more of these skills, including pattern matching and complex communication. So what my colleague and dissertation chair David Upton has called the ‘economic refuge’ available for human workers is shrinking now, and I get the impression it’s shrinking fast.

Do you share that impression? And if so, what do we do about it?