To Succeed, Obey the Robots. By Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, September 7, 2013.
Do what the robots tell you, and you’ll succeed. That’s one of the messages of Average is Over, the latest book from TAI board member Tyler Cowen. The book explores how America’s economy, culture, and politics will be transformed in age in which computers and robots can increasingly do a lot of traditional human tasks. Cowen has a piece in the Times adapted from the book, as well as a great interview with TechCrunch, explaining more.
There will be a lot more wealth in this brave new world, but it won’t be very evenly distributed because a lot of human labor won’t seem like a special or scarce resource. Capturing the attention of customers with just the right human touch will command an increasing premium. Don’t forget that Mark Zuckerberg was a psychology major in addition to being a tech genius. Sheer technical skill can be done by the machines, but integrating the tech side with an attention-grabbing innovation is a lot harder.
What Cowen calls “the marketing touch” jibes with what we’ve been saying about the service jobs of the future. Cowen is right that technology will increase income inequality, which will leave the 99 percent with two choices: to “club” the money out of the one percent, or “charm” it out of them by offering services presented with a marketing flair. Like Cowen, we think the charmers will do the best in the new economy, and ultimately their success will improve quality of life will increase for everyone.
Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. By Tyler Cowen. New York: Dutton Adult, 2013.
How Technology Wrecks the Middle Class. By David H. Autor and David Dorn. New York Times, August 24, 2013.
Average Is Over. By Thomas L. Friedman. New York Times, January 24, 2012.
Was America’s Prosperity an Accident of History? By Benjamin Wallace-Wells. NJBR, July 22, 2013. The Blip with related articles.
Keen On . . . Smart Machines: The Next Big Thing For Smart Human Beings. By Andrew Keen. Video. Interview with Tyler Cowen. TechCrunch, September 3, 2013. YouTube.
Self-driving vehicles threaten to send truck drivers to the unemployment office. Computer programs can now write journalistic accounts of sporting events and stock price movements. There are even computers that can grade essay exams with reasonable accuracy, which could revolutionize my own job, teaching. Increasingly, machines are providing not only the brawn but the brains, too, and that raises the question of where humans fit into this picture — who will prosper and who won’t in this new kind of machine economy?