So we've covered the (anxiety-prompting) prospects for job destruction by technology and the (anxiety-dampening) history of job creation. Now, we'll turn to the role of context and firm-level strategies in deciding the actual effects of technology's potentials.
David Autor in his imminently readable piece points out that labor-saving substitution and technological job destruction has been going on since at least the Industrial Revolution. And yet we still have jobs. Why?
There are (at least) two ways to think about how the adoption of machines influences employment. The classic way is to think that machines substitute for labor, that machines replace human workers in order to increase productivity. The other way is to think that machines make human workers more efficient and therefore enhance the value of human work, leading to increased demand for human labor. Machines, in this view, complement labor.
If the vision of the future that Brynjolfsson & McAfee paint in their book is right, what lies ahead is technologically exhilerating. And socially troubling.