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Symposium 2014

Virtual Library File - Is our job safe in the second machine age?

The Challenge

The time will come when technologies have completely substituted labor. No way, you say, and you are probably right: it will perhaps only be half of all labor. Indeed, a growing number of commentato ...

The time will come when technologies have completely substituted labor. No way, you say, and you are probably right: it will perhaps only be half of all labor. Indeed, a growing number of commentators think that technology is likely to have a more pronounced impact on employment than it has had in the past. While routine, codifiable tasks have already been largely automated, machines are becoming increasingly good at carrying out cognitive, formerly “human-only” tasks, such as language processing or driving. And the emergence of artificial intelligence and the digital interconnections between people will do much more; with unclear consequences for the labor market. Yet, automation is not the only reason for concern. Combine technologies with globalization and the jobs which cannot (yet) be automated will be offshored or taken over by an international superstar who can, aided be the internet, reach out to individuals anywhere on the planet.

A concise summary of a widely publicized paper by the Oxford researchers Frey and Osborne, incl. a wide array of further links. How many jobs are susceptible to automation? The authors approach this question from the perspective of engineering bottlenecks, i.e. they identify where engineering science is stuck and thus unlikely to develop techniques replacing human labour soon. This applies to (i) perception and manipulation tasks, (ii) creative intelligence tasks, and (iii) social intelligence tasks. Using detailed occupational task data, they claim that 47% of US employment is at risk. While this number is only an indication, relying on a number of assumptions, the analysis entails food for thought for public policy and the future of jobs.