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The Not-So-Dire Future of Work

The current debate about technological change often skews toward the melodramatic, foretelling a future in which machines, algorithms, and lines of code drive humans out of work. But, with smart, forward-looking policies, we can meet the coming challenges head on – and ensure that the future of work is a better job.

WASHINGTON, DC – The future of work is a hot topic nowadays. It has inspired a seemingly endless train of analyses, commentaries, and conferences, and it featured prominently in last week’s annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. For good reason: new technologies – namely, digitization, robotics, and artificial intelligence – have far-reaching implications for employment. But, contrary to how the story is often framed, a happy ending is possible.

The current debate often skews toward the melodramatic, foretelling a future in which machines drive humans out of work. According to some bleak estimates, 47% of jobs are at risk in the United States; 57% in the OECD countries; two thirds in developing economies; and half of all jobs globally (around two billion).

But similarly dire predictions of large-scale job destruction and high technology-driven structural unemployment accompanied previous major episodes of automation, including by renowned economists. John Maynard Keynes offered one; Wassily Leontief provided another. Neither materialized. Instead, technological change acted as a powerful driver of productivity and employment growth.

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