by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Robots, machine learning, and artificial intelligence promise to fundamentally change the nature of work. Everyone knows this. Or at least they think they do. …
… Reports like these leave the impression that technological progress and job destruction are accelerating dramatically. But there is no evidence of either trend. In reality, total factor productivity, the best summary measure of the pace of technical change, has been stagnating since 2005 in the U.S. and across the advanced-country world.
Moreover, as economist Timothy Taylor recently pointed out, the rate of change of the occupational structure, defined as the absolute value of jobs added in growing occupations and jobs lost in declining occupations, has been slowing, not accelerating, since the 1980s. This is not to deny that the occupational structure is changing. But it calls into question the widely held view that the pace of change is quickening.
The second thing everyone thinks they know is that previously safe jobs are at risk. …
… These observations point to what is really happening in the labor market. It isn’t that nurses’ aides are being replaced by health-care robots; rather, what nurses’ aides do is being redefined. And what they do will continue to be redefined as those robots’ capabilities evolve from getting patients out of bed to giving physical-therapy sessions.
At one level, this is good news for those concerned about the prospects of incumbent workers: Demand for workers in existing occupations will continue. Not all nurses’ aides will have to become software engineers. The knowledge they acquire on the job—of how one interacts with patients, how one recognizes their moods, and how one acknowledges their needs—will remain pertinent and valued. They will use that knowledge to guide and cooperate with their robotic colleagues.