Why is this decoupling happening?
As computers get more powerful, companies have less need for some kinds of workers. Even as it races ahead, technological progress may leave some people—perhaps even a lot—behind.
For other people, however, the outlook is bright. There’s never been a better time to be a worker with special technological skills or education. Those people can create and capture value. However, it’s not a great time to have only ordinary skills. Computers and robots are learning many basic skills at an extraordinary pace.
Not all types of jobs are disappearing
Technologies such as payroll-processing and inventory-control software, factory automation, computer-controlled machining centers, and scheduling tools have replaced workers on the shop floor and in clerical tasks and rote information processing. By contrast, big data, analytics, and high-speed communications have enhanced the output of people with engineering, creative, and design skills and made them more valuable. The net effect has been to decrease the demand for low-skilled information workers while increasing the demand for highly skilled ones.
Where humans are still superior
1) jobs involving high-end creativity, that generate things like great new business ideas, scientific breakthroughs, novels that grip you, and so on. Technology will only amplify the abilities of people who are good at these things.
2) emotion, interpersonal relations, caring, nurturing, coaching, motivating, leading, and so on.
3) dexterity, mobility. It’s unbelievably hard to get a robot to walk across a crowded restaurant, bus a table, take the dishes back into the kitchen, put them in the sink without breaking them, and do it all without terrifying the restaurant’s patrons. Sensing and manipulation are hard for robots.
What kind of environment should governments build to get the best out of digital technologies?
1) education. Primary and secondary education systems should be teaching relevant and valuable skills, which means things computers are not good at. These include creativity, interpersonal skills, and problem solving.
2) infrastructure. World-class roads, airports, and networks are investments in the future and the foundations of growth.
3) we need more entrepreneurship. Young businesses, especially fast-growing ones, are a prime source of new jobs. But most industries and regions are seeing fewer new companies than they did three decades ago.
4) immigration. Many of the world’s most talented people come to America to build lives and careers, and there’s clear evidence that immigrant-founded companies have been great job-creation engines. The current policies in this area are far too restrictive, and our procedures are nightmarishly bureaucratic.
5) basic research. Companies tend to concentrate on applied research, which means that the government has a role to play in supporting original early-stage research. Most of today’s tech marvels, from the internet to the smartphone, have a government program somewhere in their family tree.
Education, infrastructure, entrepreneurship, immigration, all are themes I brought to the attention of the Swiss government when I presented my comments
on their digital strategy in April. I missed on the basic research bit though, as Bruno Giussani
rightfully pointed in his feedback, directing me to this TED talk
where innovation economist Mariana Mazzucato makes a point that “the state — which many see as a slow, hunkering behemoth — is really one of our most exciting risk-takers and market-shapers”.
To read the full interview, point your browser to hrb.org