Technology accelerates by leaps and bounds, which can only spell doom for most workers' economic prospects. How long before a robot or algorithm can do your job, leading to mass "technological unemployment?"
Machines are learning to master once-unthinkable tasks. Yet, even though our software can best us at Jeopardy! and our hardware has learned to run and jump, there's still no consensus among economists that we're entering a world without a need for humans.
Layoffs are an unfortunate consequence of innovation. Refrigerators replaced the milk man and faxes and computers decimated the ranks of the post office. This is just part of life in the industrial-cum-information age. However, history has repeatedly shown that the labor force eventually normalizes as workers retrain for new jobs (former milk men and their descendents do not aimlessly roam the streets).
More stories from PCMag:
This fear of being outmoded by machines isn't new. In his 1930 essay, "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren" economist John Maynard Keynes warned of the coming "disease" of technological unemployment (here's a PDF link if you're in the mood for a little light reading). But that disease never really materialized. So, is this actually a thing we should concern ourselves with?
"I think if you talk to economists, they're a lot more skeptical, because this is not a new story. Worrying about automation and robots taking jobs—that has been a reoccurring concern since the industrial revolution," explains James Pethokoukis, a CNBC contributor and fellow with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a libertarian-leaning think tank, who joined us for an episode of The Convo.
"And while there have been some difficult transition periods where there has been unemployment or wages didn't go up, eventually things all sort of work out in the end. I think the baseline economist's expectation is that that might happen again: There might indeed be a very difficult transition period, but in the end there will be jobs and incomes will rise."