Amidst Google’s recent partnership with Chinese company Foxconn to develop new manufacturing robotic technologies, the American economy currently is stooping. In January it was reported that only 70,000 jobs were created, a monthly low since 2011. Even more surprising is that the share of Americans looking for work and Americans working, otherwise known as labor-force participation ratio, is at 62.8 percent, which is the lowest since 1977. The news of Google causes some fright in the skeptical and it will only deepen as the future progresses. The machines entering the work force could possibly push the middle class workers out, exacerbating an existing crisis with a resolution still not in sight.
To understand the state of American’s economy one must look to the 2011 book, Race Against the Machine, co-written by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, the director and principal researcher respectively at the MIT Center for Digital Business. The novel points out the pressures that are being piled on top of laborers in today’s workforce. Automation and technology are destroying jobs and not enough new jobs are replacing the gap of what has been lost. This is in contrast to the past, where the destroying of one job would always lead to other opportunities.
The authors’ sophomore book, The Second Machine Age , published last month, points out just how fast change is accelerating than ever imagined with this rapid technological advancement, a movement led by Google, among other companies. The economy will vastly improve, what the authors call “bounty,” but so will income inequality, a much larger concentration of wealth in fewer pockets, and pressure, never seen before, on labor markets; the authors call this “the spread.”
However, the work of Brynjolfsson and McAfee is not all too bleak. Their conclusion is positive noting that although Google robots may exacerbate an existing dire crisis, the benefits for the economy in the long-term is undeniable. As devastating as it will be, it is just a matter of getting through those short-term effects.
Google is of course leading the charge into the future. On top of their partnership with Foxconn in China, Google also purchased for $400,000 a U.K. firm called DeepMind, which specializes in artificial intelligence. The company has also acquired other start-up futuristic companies, which provide everything from robot arms to software that recognizes spatial recognition.
In regards to the long-term, the US economy was reported by the bureau of Labor Statistics to have lost 6 million jobs in the manufacturing industry between 2000 and 2009. However, some manufacturing have moved to the U.S. from China, due to workers being pushed from higher wages and increase in costs of transportation. The robotic industry would, as a result, give the US more of a competitive edge, specifically in electronics and car manufacturing.
The situation however is a complex one. The president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Robert Atkinson, along with many others emphasize how there is still uncertainty in regards to just how much robots will take over the manufacturing section; though it cannot be argued that we are entering a phase in which we are transforming into a new world. To say Google’s charge into the future would exacerbate a current crisis is jumping the gun as the situation is said to be much more sophisticated than employment versus robots.
By Kollin Lore