Are robots finally replacing humans? Does the emerging age of artificial intelligence and automation mean we will soon see “peak jobs” and the need for a Universal Basic Income to support a widening swath of hapless citizens unsuited for employment in a primarily “knowledge” workforce? Improving productivity—reducing labor hours per unit of product or service—has been the hallmark of economic progress for centuries. But advances due to robots and AI, some say, will be fundamentally different because digital machines are ready to revolutionize the nature of work in nearly every sector, not just one or two. But the lessons of history and the realities of technologies suggest that, despite yet more disruption, the overall result will be net job gains and faster economic growth.
Mark Mills is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a Faculty Fellow at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University. He also serves on the Advisory Board of Notre Dame’s Reilly Center for Science Technology & Values, and is a partner in a boutique energy-tech venture fund. Mills writes the Energy Intelligence column for Forbes.com and is coauthor of the 2005 book The Bottomless Well which rose to #1 in Amazon’s science rankings. He was a staff consultant in the White House Science Office under President Reagan, and earlier in his career an experimental physicist and development engineer in microprocessors, fiber optics, and optical detectors working at Canada’s Bell Labs, and RCA’s Sarnoff Research Center.