In your book “The Second Machine Age,” we have entered the second machine age, which follows the first phase of mechanization. The consequences, you say, are even more dramatic than those of the industrial revolution. What do you see the advent of this new era?
The second age of the machine started when technology began to make completely new things, they don ‘ were not supposed to do and nobody had foreseen. I mean the existing recognition systems, the ability to understand the language and answer the questions and then present the answers in writing like a human, to make translations between different languages, to manufacture a fully autonomous car. I’ve even read that a new system was able to pass the IQ test better than an average university graduate. This is the never-seen …
When does the second machine age?
It is very difficult to precisely date but I like to go back in 2010, when announcing the Google Car. Six years ago only, a book entitled “The New Division of Labor”, yet excellent, explained that an autonomous car was impossible, that it would never see the day because of technical constraints. No one, I mean no one, had seen this coming technology revolution …
What is its impact on our economies?
I say often these new technologies is the best news for the global economy for a long time. They have no more than five to ten years and yet already have a significant impact worldwide. They disrupt our economies, our societies, our communities, our lives. The technological revolution accelerates innovation, boosts productivity, although this is not yet reflected in the statistics. It is fundamentally transforming our economies and jobs. Look what happened in developing countries. New technologies will have helped the poorest people out of poverty, they have already transformed the lives of 2 or 3 billion people at the bottom of the pyramid, which for the first time, have access to financial services, have insurance through their mobile phone. Certainly, their facilities are not yet as sophisticated as mine, but, in accordance with Moore’s Law [the computing power of computers doubles every eighteen months, Ed], these people will soon be able to afford machines more efficient at cheaper prices. By 2020, billions of people will gain personal devices as powerful as supercomputers there are twenty or thirty years.
According to you, the second age of the machine is a blessing! Do not under you think of its impact on employment?
No, we must remember that this era offers exceptional opportunities, but it also confronts us challenges, including the adaptation of employment. Most people make their living by offering their work, they are not professional investors or capitalist. Now, computers, software, robots are replacing more and more of these low-skilled physical jobs. If you have a routine job as a worker on a production line, new technologies are not your friends! Today the most common occupation in most of the 50 states of America is that of truck driver … I would not bet that it will be in twenty years. Some trades of knowledge are also already impacted, such as bank tellers. Despite vending machines and task automation, this profession was growing faster than the other there are still five years. That is not true today, and new technologies largely explain this trend.
The debate on the impact of technological progress on employment is as old as the industrial revolution … The entry into a new era of change does the machine data the problem?
True, it has been two hundred years some argue that technical progress led to mass unemployment. Yet statistics prove otherwise. World population has increased dramatically over two centuries without explosion of unemployment. Instead, we approached full employment. Wages have grown very long time stably. This dynamic is broken there twenty years. Statistics show that in rich countries, the average worker has not enriched during this period. The middle class tends to crumble. Inequalities are increasing, the share of GDP going to wages decreasing. These are all signs that something has changed. Certainly, the recession played as slowing global growth. But logic dictates that the substitution of labor by new technology also plays a big role. This is not because the correlation between technological progress and mass unemployment proved false for two hundred years it still is today. Be careful not to miss a substantive change by focusing on the economic laws of the past!
What should our governments for these changes to benefit the largest number?
Our democracies and our governments must make the right choices and make the right decisions about the use of these new tools to ensure that we are creating healthy environments. The technologies are not magic, they will not suddenly make life wonderful for everyone, as claimed by the techno-optimists. Only by investing in education, strengthening our social security, adapting our laws that we will draw the best out of technological progress. This can be achieved with these conditions. I’m a realistic optimist!
Isabelle Lesniak, Les Echos
“The Second Machine Age. Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies “, ed. W. W. Norton & amp; Company. The French translation, “The Second Machine Age,” released August 26, 2015 by Odile Jacob.