I write about robots so much that I would write a song about them, except that someone beat me to it.
One theme in this blog is the question of how technical innovation will affect society. There are some that assert that this round of innovation is so dramatic that we will be left with significant underemployment.
I disagree with this view, and have previously noted that as today’s industries are eliminated, new ones will pop up and employ everyone.
Someone else who shares this view is Robert D. Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
I am willing to challenge the doomsayers. We say robots will boost productivity, lower prices, and increase wages. In so doing, they will increase demand throughout the economy, which will spur growth and, yes, create jobs.
Admittedly, Atkinson does have some self interest in making that assertion.
It would be economically disastrous, however, for policymakers to give into Luddite urges to throttle back on robotics, artificial intelligence, or other fields of potentially disruptive technology by redirecting federal research funds, imposing taxes, regulatory barriers, or any other means of staving off change to preserve the status quo for workers. We must recognize that technology innovation and productivity hold the keys, not to our undoing, but to higher living standards and a better quality of life.
Granting that, however, Atkinson is certain that the doomsday view of massive future underemployment is incorrect. And he is willing to put down cold, hard cash:
We will give $2,500 to the first techno-doomsayer who accepts our challenge and can show that in 10 years, despite continued advances in automation, the US unemployment rate has become jarringly different than it is today.
For the purpose of this challenge, let me be specific about the economic terms: ITIF is certain that in the fourth quarter of 2025, the US unemployment rate, as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, will continue to be lower than 8 percent (which is to say one-tenth of what some alarmists have been predicting). The only caveat in this prediction is that if the country happens to be in a cyclical recession, as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research, then the reference quarter will be the first quarter before the beginning of that particular recession.
So if you believe that the United States will have, say, 25 percent unemployment in 2025, contact Atkinson, and if you’re right, you may get TWO THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS! (And if you say that in a Robin Leach voice, it’s even more impressive.)
But before you plunk your money down, think about this – what will $2,500 buy in 2025? If historical trends continue and inflation stays at around 1.5% per year, then perhaps we’re looking at $2,150 or so in today’s money. But if the apocalypse is truly on us and Obama or Sanders or Trump or whoever (take your pick) runs the economy into the ground, then that $2,500 may be enough to buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks – or Beatrice.