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The term “creative destruction” was knicked from Karl Marx and repurposed by the Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpter to describe the impact of new technologies and innovations on established social structures. It helps people understand the reshaping impact the Internet has had on one industry after another. We all love the “creative” part, but  the “destruction” part can be brutally hard on businesses and individuals. In their new e-book, Race Against the Machine, MIT Sloan School of Management professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee take a hard look at the impact of today’s acceleration of technology on jobs and the economy.

They argue that while the global financial crisis, off-shoring of jobs, taxes and regulations have all had an impact on jobs in the United States, technology is also a significant factor. They say we’re in the early throes of a Great Restructuring. “Our technologies are racing ahead but many of our skills and organizations are lagging behind. So it’s urgent that we understand these phenomena, discuss their implications and come up with strategies that allow human workers to race with machines instead of racing against them,” they write in the book’s introduction.

Brynjolfsson and McAfee call themselves “digital optimists.” They argue that information technology tools are “greatly improving our world and our lives, and will continue to do so.” They put forth ideas for using technologies to accelerate organizational innovation and enhance human capital.

So how do we resolve this conundrum? Information technologies make people and economies more productive and efficient. They enable collaboration and creativity. They help people make better decisions and live smarter. Yet they also make it possible for organizations to perform more work with fewer people–or to do different kinds of work that doesn’t require as many people.

What are your ideas for how we can get the best of technologies and also best handle the “destruction” part?

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Posted by: Dan Geer
December 30, 2011
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I propose an open source society. Which is only possible through technology. Let everyone work on anything they want. Some will go one way, others another, but in the end the workload gets reasonably balanced across humanity.

And I fully agree with William Taylor, lets give people their lives back. :)

Posted by: Demian
November 20, 2011
2:59 pm

James and Steve, I like what both of you have to say. However, why can’t leisure time become increased. Should not the overall populous become more educated so that they can learn how to use these tools to assist in not just the manual labor piece, but also for analysis, prediction and other decision modeling structures? I understand the expense in re-education but I also believe the culture will also need an adequate adjustment. In short, time should become more valuable as individuals learn to better interact with these tools and therefore the idea of long days that the office or the assembly line should eventually diminish as both the culture and education areas change to support this form of ideology and value. People should be free to spend more time with family and community, and therefore the value on time should be equated to how much of this we take from people rather than where we can send this work to get it done at a cheaper rate. I know this is very utopian in meaning, but shouldn’t that be how technology is used and therefore envisioned? Personal time is valuable and therefore the human element should be of the highest value when determining how the work culture should evolve.

Posted by: William Taylor
November 3, 2011
7:33 am

The topic reminded me of the very precious proverb – “Necessity is the father of invention”. It was the necessity to invent machines to automate operations that would need huge manual labour, which was always a scarcity especially in Europe and America. Thinking and research are basic instinct of human being and therefore, it has been almost an automatic process to do research and find out how the industries can run more smoothly and accurately. Invention of the computer has been revolutionary to reduce human interventions in industrial processes thus making a very good balance of involvement of man and machine.
Now to take care of the “destruction” part that has been prominent with the tremendous speed of development of sophisticated machines, computers and the internet, I personally think that every country has to go through a planned continuous process of building new industries to create jobs in different sectors.

Posted by: Saradwata Sen
November 2, 2011
3:13 pm

I admit it – I’ve very concerned about the digital vaccum that is happening right before us. Think about the airline industry. Tickets all purchased on line – tons of jobs lost. Kiosks rather than counter agents – tons of jobs lost. When you rent a car – kiosk, more jobs lost. NONE of these jobs are coming back as the technology is fantastic. Where are these displaced persons supposed to go? What are they supposed to do? This is one industry, but virtually every industry is falling into a digital vaccum….

Posted by: David DeCapua
November 2, 2011
6:46 am

I’ve been thinking this over, and it seems to me that the role of computers/technologies in US unemployment today is oversold. Look at what happened in the economy. Between the 1990s and today, massive amounts of manufacturing moved to China–millions of mid-pay US jobs with benefits. This phenomenon was masked partly by the real estate boom, which employed a lot of people in banking, real estate, law, and construction. When that bubble burst, the devastation caused by the manufacturing losses was fully revealed.

Posted by: Steve Hamm
November 1, 2011
1:49 pm

An interesting post, Steve and I guess this is a question that has been asked ever since the Luddites smashed mechanised looms in the industrial revolution.

I remember being told at school in the early 1980′s that computers would mean that we would have much more leisure time in the future because computers would do all the work but I think that many of us are working the same or longer hours, with a greater level of output thanks to technology. Looking back, I think this was a utopian dream at the time – leisure time isn’t an option for most today because we simply can’t afford it!

It would be interesting to see how employment / unemployment has changed across the globe as regions have increased output and grown their economies through information technology growth, especially in recent times. An increase in unemployment would support the idea that IT is destructive to the jobs market but I suspect that is not the case and instead where IT helps an economy to grow, other job opportunities are created to create equilibrium, even if there is a lag.

Now the quality of those new jobs is another discussion…..

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