From Real Time Economics:
David Autor knows a lot about robots. He doesn’t think they’re set to devour our jobs.
As an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who focuses on the impact of automation on employment, he’s in a good position to know. He’s surrounded by people creating many of the machines behind the latest wave of techno-anxiety.
His is “the non-alarmist view,” he says.
The 50-year-old believes automation has hurt the job market—but in a more targeted way than most pessimists think. He also doesn’t see the automation wave killing a wider array of jobs as quickly as many predict. Machines are invading the workplace, but in many cases as tools to make humans more productive, not replace them.
His research—presented in August to a packed audience of international central bankers in Wyoming—shows middle-skill jobs like bookkeeping, clerical work and repetitive tasks on assembly lines are being rapidly gobbled up by automation. But higher-paying jobs that require creativity and problem-solving—often aided by computers—have grown rapidly, as have lower skilled jobs that are resistant to automation, resulting in a polarized labor market and stagnant wages.
But many other economists and tech-watchers are ringing a louder bell.
“We’re entering an era where human beings are becoming dispensable in more parts of the economy and at a faster rate than ever before,” said Vivek Wadwa, a futurist at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University.
A recent Pew survey found just under half of technology experts said automation would displace “significant numbers of both blue- and white-collar workers” over the next decade. Some said it would leave “masses of people who are effectively unemployable.” But the other half said it will create more jobs than it destroys.
Mr. Autor—who always sports a single gecko-shaped silver earring, his trademark symbol also pasted on his iPhone—says the fear has outpaced reality. Automation is advancing, but we are still far from the day when machines can do complex physical and mental tasks that are easily and cheaply done by humans.
He encourages people to watch online videos of robots developed for the Pentagon, some built by his MIT colleagues. “They’ll put them in the field and if a gust of wind unexpectedly nudges a door open, they tip over,” he says with a chuckle....MORE