Innovation & Jobs

With so much chatter recently about technology killing jobs, it's hard not to notice.

A 2014 NYTimes article reviewed books with competing outlooks. One camp is optimistic about technology and jobs, while the other is much more pessimistic.

As noted, in looking at the effect technology can have on jobs, look no further than Kodak. "At its peak, Kodak employed 140,000 people; Instagram had only 13 employees when it was bought by Facebook (for $1 billion!) in 2012." This is the pessimistic view.

In addition, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, two economists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, note that “[r]apid and accelerating digitization is likely to bring economic rather than environmental disruption, stemming from the fact that as computers get more powerful, companies have less need for some kinds of workers.” They believe that we are at a moment when technological innovation is about to accelerate, and make the world much wealthier, just as the Industrial Revolution did 250 years ago. Yet buried in their sunny prose is a darker forecast: that while this digital revolution will be great for innovators, entrepreneurs and other creative people, not everyone will participate — especially those who do jobs that software can do better.

On the other side of the fence is Robert J. Gordon, a macroeconomist at Northwestern University. "In his view, the next 40 years of innovation is not going to look much different from the past 40 years, which he believes haven’t been nearly as transformative or wealth-creating as the discovery of electricity and the invention of the light bulb." When asked whether future innovation would cost jobs, he said he thought it would, but no more or less than has always been the case.

So, in essence, we are where we were 30 years ago. We have one side telling us that doom is imminent, and we have the other side telling us that the type of innovation that will kill jobs is still many decades away.

What is important is that we should recognize now that we have the ability to take control of our destiny rather than letting technology take control of us. We need to stay ahead of the curve and make sure that there is a place for us (librarians) in the future.

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