What We Get Wrong About Technology

What we get wrong about technology boils down to two things. The first is that simple, cheap and pervasive – and often near-invisible – technologies have more transformational power than things which are more obviously new and shiny; affordability beats complexity. The second mistake is to think that the impact of a new technology is driven by its technical availability, when the key date is its transition to economic and social availability, with lags which are sometimes very short but which can be very long indeed. This essay draws on examples from the invention of printing onwards to make the point that we might need to look in less obvious places for the technologies which will drive the next round of change.

All of that’s another way of putting the thought pithily expressed by Roy Amara:

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

Tim Harford – The Undercover Economist

Future of work

Technology and people: The great job-creating machine

The impact of technology on employment often focuses on the jobs at risk of being automated out of existence, not at the ones which might be created, either because of new technical possibilities, or as a consequence of increasing wealth and disposable income. This research looks at how patterns of employment have changed by tracking census data on occupations from 1871 to 2011 and concludes, not altogether surprisingly that their distribution has steadily changed, with patterns ranging from a steady decline in agricultural labourers and launderers, to telephonists rising to a peak in 1971 before declining by 2011 to the level of 1911 – and accountants, hairdressers and bar staff showing relentless growth, which is either the triumph of the service economy or an alarming step towards the reality of the B Ark.

Critically though, the conclusions are that although technological unemployment is very real, the stock of employment is not fixed or limited by technology, and that there is every reason to expect that new – and often unforeseen – jobs will continue to be created, as they always have been.

Link to the full report below – there was also a good summary of it published in the Guardian.

Ian Stewart, Debapratim De and Alex Cole – Deloitte