The Technology Trap: Capital, Labor, and Power in the Age of Automation

August 7, 2019 - Comment

How the history of technological revolutions can help us better understand economic and political polarization in the age of automation From the Industrial Revolution to the age of artificial intelligence, The Technology Trap takes a sweeping look at the history of technological progress and how it has radically shifted the distribution of economic and political

How the history of technological revolutions can help us better understand economic and political polarization in the age of automation

From the Industrial Revolution to the age of artificial intelligence, The Technology Trap takes a sweeping look at the history of technological progress and how it has radically shifted the distribution of economic and political power among society’s members. As Carl Benedikt Frey shows, the Industrial Revolution created unprecedented wealth and prosperity over the long run, but the immediate consequences of mechanization were devastating for large swaths of the population. Middle-income jobs withered, wages stagnated, the labor share of income fell, profits surged, and economic inequality skyrocketed. These trends, Frey documents, broadly mirror those in our current age of automation, which began with the Computer Revolution.

Just as the Industrial Revolution eventually brought about extraordinary benefits for society, artificial intelligence systems have the potential to do the same. But Frey argues that this depends on how the short term is managed. In the nineteenth century, workers violently expressed their concerns over machines taking their jobs. The Luddite uprisings joined a long wave of machinery riots that swept across Europe and China. Today’s despairing middle class has not resorted to physical force, but their frustration has led to rising populism and the increasing fragmentation of society. As middle-class jobs continue to come under pressure, there’s no assurance that positive attitudes to technology will persist.

The Industrial Revolution was a defining moment in history, but few grasped its enormous consequences at the time. The Technology Trap demonstrates that in the midst of another technological revolution, the lessons of the past can help us to more effectively face the present.

Comments

Anonymous says:

Job Assisting or Job Replacing? We’ve been here before. In a 2013 study, Frey and his Oxford colleague Michael Osborne concluded that almost half of U.S. jobs are at risk of being automated by AI and robots. In this book, Frey tells us what happened in the past when people’s livelihoods were threatened by machines.The reader should be warned that this is a long book. Frey includes an overview of the history of technology from the 1700s till now, making some chapters feel like a condensed version of Robert Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of…

Anonymous says:

Where’s the Money Going? In this brilliant, wide-ranging combination of social, economic, and technological history, one sentence stands out for me: “In America, labor productivity has gone up eight times faster than hourly compensation since 1979.” (244) Think about it: average American workers in 2018 produce eight times as many goods and services as they did in 1979, but their real wages, what their salaries can actually buy today, are the same as they were forty years ago! Where’s the rest of the money gone? The…

Anonymous says:

a historical overview of the relationship between technology, labour, productivity and capital The author wrote, alongside Michael Osborne, a projection of the impact on automation on a variety of professions in 2013 and the results were not encouraging. The breadth of industries which would be affected by labor saving technologies was forecasted to be unprecedented. In Carl Frey’s new book he has provided a highly interesting historical view on the impact of technology on labor, capital and how productivity gains have been shared over time as a function of the nature of the technology…

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