Editor’s Note: In 2020, an MIT Task Force produced a comprehensive report on the Work of the Future. Since then, the global pandemic has had a significant effect on work and businesses, providing the impetus for The Work of the Future, by the same authors. The book, from which the following excerpt is adapted, will be published by MIT Press on January 25, 2022.

A decade ago, powerful mobile phones were still a novelty, driverless cars were never seen on public roadways, and computers did not listen to conversations or respond to spoken questions. The possibility of robots taking jobs seemed far off, save for an assembly line or two. But as the emerging capabilities of robotics and artificial intelligence began capturing headlines and the popular imagination, researchers and commentators began warning that jobs long thought to be immune to automation—those demanding expertise, judgment, creativity, and seasoned experience—might soon be better accomplished by machines. Citizens of industrialized countries took notice, reacting with mounting trepidation. 

Our research did not confirm the dystopian vision of robots ushering workers off factory floors or AI rendering human expertise and judgment superfluous. But it did uncover something equally pernicious: amid a technological ecosystem delivering rising productivity and an economy generating plenty of jobs (at least until the covid-19 crisis), we found a labor market in which the fruits are so unequally distributed, so skewed toward the top, that the majority of workers have tasted only a tiny morsel of a vast harvest. 

For most US workers, the trajectory of productivity growth diverged from the trajectory of wage growth four decades ago. This decoupling had baleful economic and social consequences: low-paid, insecure jobs held by non-college-educated workers; low participation rates in the labor force; weak upward mobility across generations; and festering racial disparities in earnings and employment that have not substantially improved in decades. While new technologies have contributed to these poor results, these outcomes were not an inevitable consequence of technological change, or of globalization, or of market forces. Similar pressures from digitalization and globalization affected most industrialized countries, yet their labor markets fared better. 

We know that history and economics show no intrinsic conflict among technological change, full employment, and rising earnings. The dynamic interplay of task automation, innovation, and new work creation, while always disruptive, is a primary wellspring of rising productivity. Innovation improves the quantity, quality, and variety of work that a worker can accomplish in a given time. This rising productivity, in turn, enables improving living standards and the flourishing of human endeavors. 

When innovation fails to drive opportunity, however, it generates a fear of the future: the suspicion that technological progress, even if it makes the country wealthier, will threaten numerous livelihoods. This fear exacts a high price: political and regional divisions, distrust of institutions, and mistrust of innovation itself. In US politics, a growing gulf between the “haves” and the “have-nots” has driven a deepening national schism over how society should respond to the needs of those at the bottom of the economic ladder. 

The central challenge ahead—indeed, the work of the future—is to advance labor market opportunity to meet, complement, and shape technological innovation. This drive will require innovating in our labor market institutions by modernizing the laws, policies, norms, organizations, and enterprises that set the “rules of the game.” 

The labor market impacts of technologies like AI and robotics are taking years to unfold. But we have no time to spare in preparing for them. If those technologies are deployed in the labor institutions of today, which were designed for the last century, we will see effects similar to those manifested in recent decades: downward pressure on wages and benefits, and an increasingly bifurcated labor market. 

Building a future of work that harvests the dividends of rapidly advancing automation and ever more powerful computers can deliver opportunity and economic security for workers. To do that, we must foster institutional innovations that complement technological change.

The central challenge ahead—indeed, the work of the future—is to advance labor market opportunity to meet, complement, and shape technological innovation.

Long before the pandemic disruption, our research on the work of the future showed how many in our country are failing to thrive in a labor market that generates plenty of jobs but little economic security. The effects of the pandemic have made it even more viscerally and publicly clear: despite the official designation of many low-paid workers as

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By: David Autor, David A. Mindell, and Elisabeth B. Reynolds
Title: The work of the future
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2021/12/17/1040693/the-work-of-the-future-2/
Published Date: Fri, 17 Dec 2021 14:00:00 +0000

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