The New Industrial Revolution.

There are two quotes that stand out to me in this week’s readings:

  1. From the Weiner article:  “The new industrial revolution which is taking place now consists primarily in replacing human judgment and discrimination at low levels by the discrimination of the machine.”
  2. From the Licklider article:  “‘Mechanical extension’ has given way to replacement of men, to automation, and the men who remain are there more to help than to be helped.”

They bring to mind an interesting book by Kevin Kelly called “What technology wants.”  The premise of this book is to consider the global explosion of new media technologies as a single entity with its own agenda.  The perspective, which at first seems fantastical, is informative.  It suggests that we consider our technology as more than mere tools, that we negotiate with it,  that we recognize it as something with its own momentum and direction, and that we steer it rather than simply create it and set it free.

I think both Weiner and Licklider would agree with this perspective.  If you search Google for “technology replacing jobs” you get a significant number of hits.  Each of these suggests that we need to pay attention to what we are doing when we replace people with machines. Historians and economists will argue that the threat of technology to jobs is an age old problem–that we’re still here and still doing OK.  I would argue that as the pace of technological development increases, we might put ourselves out of our jobs so quickly that there is no time for the emergence of new sectors of the economy capable of creating new jobs.

Wiener later says, “We must value leisure.”  There is something to this.  Like it or not, we live in a world driven by markets and capitalism. We must develop market forces that value individual leisure.  These forces will act as a “homeostatic mechanism” against mass unemployment in the face of increasingly capable technology.  I have no idea what form these forces might take, but we need them and we need them now.  It’s clear that the United States places almost no value on leisure.  Workers put in more hours now than ever before.  That said, any shift in this direction will have to be done almost uniformly, simultaneously, and worldwide, or else global market forces will continue down the same old path of unbounded productivity increases.

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~ by wallablogga on February 14, 2012.

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