Automation. We hear about it, but do we truly understand what it means? Many people conjure up images of robots replacing our jobs and kicking humans to the curb. When the average person is confronted with the reality of computers becoming sentient, this question always comes up, “why would we want to code ourselves out of a job?” and the answer is much more complicated than it is malicious. According to James Bessen, an economist who teaches at the Boston University School of Law, automation will not lead to the rapture of human jobs as anticipated. Bessen isn’t just injecting some much needed optimism in this debate, but he’s basing his argument off of the empirical evidence. After studying the effects of automation on the economy, it’s shown that automation leads to increased productivity, which results in the cost of goods going down, increased consumer spending, more wealth, and more jobs. Additionally, most sectors that have had a technological evolution have experienced an increase in the number of people they hire, as you have to have more people on hand to handle the growing complexity of the business. While many initally think of automation mostly affecting lower wage jobs like fast food or trucking, they would be wrong. AI is also poised to move into healthcare and law in big ways. Across the board, automation will reduce cost to operate and ultimately lead to more jobs for human beings as the business will grow and become more complex, requiring humans to help manage that transition. Bessen identifies the issue of people having their jobs replaced by automation. He’s not so much worried about automation causing mass unemployment, but more so, “transitioning people from one job to another.” Job training will increasingly become a major focus of the presidential cabinets going forward into the future. Only time will tell as to whether we have all done our part to prepare for the different future that’s in front of us.
Bessen points to the fact that in the late 19th century, people were getting laid off from their agricultural jobs as automation started to take hold and repalce many of the jobs on the farm. As a result, the government decided to make high school mandatory for all students going forward, helping prepare them for the future through education. This era will be no different, although it will change the way we live forever.