Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, from the MIT Sloan School of Management, contend that the global economy has entered a phase of healthy productivity growth and anaemic job growth. They argue this “great decoupling” is caused by technology elbowing aside traditional jobs. (http://raceagainstthemachine.com)
W. Brian Arthur, a researcher at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center’s intelligence systems lab, has another term for it: the “autonomous economy”. Digital processes are talking to other digital processes and creating new processes, which has removed the need for human intervention.
Anecdotal evidence that digital technologies threaten jobs is, of course, everywhere: from automation in manufacturing to services.
But this time around, the process of “creative-destruction” is lagging behind. In the past, jobs destroyed in the first phase of a technology revolution have been regenerated i.e. new jobs might be expected to arise as robots work with humans instead of replacing them totally. But this current transition is more painful than anticipated for many because the gap between digital winners and losers has widened. Employment trends have been polarizing the workforce and have hollowed out the middle class, which explains the current global social tensions in all developed economies. The top and bottom are clearly getting farther apart.
The lesson that history taught though previous technology revolutions in developed economies is that secondary education became accessible to many people at a time when employment in agriculture was drying up. The result, at least through the 1980s, was an increase in educated workers who found jobs in the industrial sectors, boosting incomes and reducing inequality.
So today, the emergence of digital work systems is not only creating incoherence on the employer side but also on the employee side, which comes back as a significant problem to businesses as the middle-class represents the core of their customer base. This has all the attributes of a key systemic risk as businesses and workers around the world are try to devise workforce strategies to negotiate this digital transition.