Lighting Fires and Filling Buckets

Policy Ideas for the Age of Automation, Part One: Education

Everyone is starting to become concerned that the machines are about to take away all of our jobs—at least, all of the jobs that we do now. Everything is on the chopping block to be automated, from flipping burgers to driving trucks to filing legal papers to making a medical diagnosis. Even writing computer code is supposedly going to be automated. With the rise of artificial intelligence, this is all supposed to happen extremely quickly, leaving a vast population of superfluous workers.

A lot of this is overhyped and exaggerated, of course. The process of transformation is likely to take a lot longer than predicted, and there is good reason to think that while many tasks will be automated, fewer actual jobs will be automated, so in most cases machines will end up augmenting human workers instead of replacing them.

Those of us who are technological optimists can point to the history of the Industrial Revolution as evidence that a big economic and technological transition might seem terrifying at first, and it might eliminate or reduce some of the old jobs that we’re familiar with, but it will produce many new jobs that had never been conceived before, along with enormous amounts of new wealth for everybody.

Yet the example of the Industrial Revolution is not quite that reassuring. It was a wrenching disruption, not everybody adapted to it successfully, and the result was an age of political and cultural disruption that provided the roots for populist, nationalist, and totalitarian movements. It’s not something we necessarily want to repeat.

That raises the question: can we do better this time? Are there things we can do to make the transition to the new era of automation faster and smoother? What government policies can make the problem better or worse?

Read the rest at RealClearFuture.

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