|Competing Visions of a Computer-Controlled Future|
Computers dominate how we live, work and think. For some, the technology is a boon and promises even better things to come. But others warn that there could be bizarre consequences and that humans may be on the losing end of progress.
'In his book "The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future," American computer scientist Martin Ford paints a grim picture. He argues that the power of computers is growing so quickly that they will be capable of operating with absolutely no human involvement at some point in the future. Ford believes that 75-percent unemployment is a possibility before the end of the century. "Economic progress ultimately signifies the ability to produce things at a lower financial cost and with less labor than in the past," says Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. As a result, he says, increasing effectiveness goes hand in hand with rising unemployment, and the unemployed merely become "human waste."
Likewise, in their book "Race Against the Machine," Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, both scholars at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), argue that, for the first time in its history, technological progress is creating more jobs for computers than for people.
Winners and Losers
A British government study on the future of computerized trading concludes that the financial markets are on the verge of radical change and predicts that the number of traders will drastically decline over the next decade. "The simple fact is that we humans are made from hardware that is just too bandwidth-limited, and too slow, to compete with coming waves of computer technology," the study says. As long ago as 1965, Gordon Moore, who would later go on to cofound Intel, predicted that the performance and component density of processors would rapidly develop. Over the last four decades, the number of transistors in a processor has doubled about once every 18 to 24 months, resulting in rapid changes in processing speed. The maximum computing speed of the first microchip was 740 kilohertz compared with the standard speed of about 3 gigahertz today, representing a more than 4,000-fold increase.
While this leads to the creation of new jobs in the digital economy, jobs in traditional industries are being cut. Granted, up to 6 million new IT jobs are expected between 2010 and 2014. But Foxconn, a Taiwan-based manufacturer to which IT companies outsource much of their production, plans to purchase a million robots over the next three years to replace some of its more than million employees.
It's a paradox. On the one hand, digitization increases growth and prosperity. On the other, write MIT scholars Brynjolfsson and McAfee, "There is no economic law that says that everyone, or even most people, automatically benefit from technological progress." '