Seems that themes come in batches, the newest theme for me is the old Jetson’s promise of leisure time replacing work, somewhere in the future we’d all work at what we’re good at and there would be enough (food and other goods and money) to go around. I’m firmly convinced that since the dawn of the man-made fertilizer age after World War 1, there is enough food for example, it shouldn’t be so expensive. So, why hasn’t this happened?
In a New York Review of Books, I read an excellent review of a work by a Professor of political economy at Warwick College, Robert Skidelsky, called “Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics”. The reviewer is David Graeber and his essay is here, Against Economics.
There is a growing feeling, among those who have the responsibility of managing large economies, that the discipline of economics is no longer fit for purpose. It is beginning to look like a science designed to solve problems that no longer exist.
Also, Robert Skidelsky and his brother Edward, wrote a book in 2011 called “How Much Is Enough?”, which I borrowed from our local library. This book discusses the excesses of capitalism and how it lead to today’s income inequality, among other topics. The book was written on the heels of the 2008 economic collapse and picks at a 1930 essay written by Keynes on “The Economic Possabilites for our Grandchildren” where he posits that by 2030, work would consist of 3 hours per day given no major wars or population growth. The authors have a lot to say about many economic issues which have delayed Keynes’ fantasy.
Then, while reading an IEEE Spectrum this weekend, (Nov. 24, 2019), I ran across a summary of a recent event: AI and the Future of Work: The Economic Impacts of Artificial Intelligence. The MIT press release/summary of this event is here:MIT conference focuses on preparing workers for the era of artificial
As it dovetails nicely into the above works by Skidelsky, I thought I’d look for more information on this symposium and found these articles from MIT:
MIT report examines how to make technology work for society
Task force calls for bold public and private action to harness technology for shared prosperity
Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office
September 4, 2019
Some snippets from the MIT article:
“Technological advances did deliver productivity growth over the last four decades,” the report states. “But productivity growth did not translate into shared prosperity.”
“A big question, then, is what the next decades of automation have in store. As the report explains, some technological innovations are broadly productive, while others are merely “so-so technologies” — a term coined by economists Daron Acemoglu of MIT and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University to describe technologies that replace workers without markedly improving services or increasing productivity.
For instance, electricity and light bulbs were broadly productive, allowing the expansion of other types of work. But automated technology allowing for self-check-out at pharmacies or supermarkets merely replaces workers without notably increasing efficiency for the customer or productivity.”
These self-check-outs are thus so-so technology.
“The recent reset of expectations on driverless cars is a leading indicator for other types of AI-enabled systems as well,” says David A. Mindell, co-chair of the task force, professor of aeronautics and astronautics, and the Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing at MIT. “These technologies hold great promise, but it takes time to understand the optimal combination of people and machines. And the timing of adoption is crucial for understanding the impact on workers.”
The Work of the Future the host page for a report which is downloaded in PDF format for e-book style reading. From that page:
To help answer these questions, and to provide a framework for the Task Force’s efforts over the next year, this report examines several aspects of the interaction between work and technology.
All this and more can be found at MIT Work of the Future.
Then, later (Nov 26, 2019) I bump into this New York Times profile of Professor Mariana Mazzucato, who also is working to upend some of the more staid notions of economics: (Meet the Leftish Economist With a New Story About Capitalism Mariana Mazzucato wants liberals to talk less about the redistribution of wealth and more about its creation. Politicians around the world are listening.) Her views are gaining some followers and also generating some critics – both, I think, good things which are needed in today’s economies.
IEEE Spectrum follows up with this article on the ongoing MIT conference:AI and the Future of Work: The Prospects for Tomorrow’s Jobs
Another thoughtful essay from IEEE Spectrum today: AI and Economic Productivity: Expect Evolution, Not Revolution. Here, author Jeffrey Funk paints a pragmatic review of the state of AI which, when looked at through the lens of “today”, paints a less rosy picture than much of the hype. AI is in its infancy but we seems to forget about that.
For the reasons I’ve given, it’s very hard for me to feel confident that any of the AI startups I examined will provide the U.S. economy with a big boost over the next decade. Similar pessimism is also starting to emerge from such normally cheery publications as Technology Review and Scientific American. Even the AI community is beginning to express concerns in books such as The AI Delusion and Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence We Can Trust, concerns that are growing amid the rising hype about many new technologies.
This town is giving families $500 a month.
The results are remarkable, recipients have used the money to apply for better jobs, spend more time with their children, or save for better housing
Tue 10 Dec 2019 06.10 EST
The “time tax” of poverty is not to be underestimated. People juggle the logistical chaos of holding down multiple jobs. They navigate the financial necessity of overtime. They lose hours to the inefficiencies of public transportation. Five hundred dollars a month doesn’t fix income insecurity or solve important structural problems, but for the majority of families in Seed, that $500 represents a 30% increase in monthly income, and that buys a lot.
There will be more, I’m sure …