Latin America in the Second Machine Age

The Summit of the Americas in Panama City will focus on how to support inclusive growth in the Latin American and Caribbean economies, which have lately taken a major hit from falling commodities prices. Any strategy will have to boost the region's resilience to the next wave of automation.

PANAMA CITY – At the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama City, business and government leaders will discuss the economic challenges facing the Western Hemisphere, especially how to support inclusive growth in the wake of the commodities bonanza that endured for the better part of the last decade. Any strategy will have to account for an inescapable global phenomenon: the so-called “Second Machine Age.”

The MIT economists Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, among others, identify the Second Machine Age with the rise of new automation technologies and artificial intelligence. While optimists predict that these innovations will usher in an era of unprecedented abundance, less sanguine analysts estimate that nearly half of all jobs currently performed by humans are vulnerable to replacement by robots and increasingly sophisticated software.

Advanced technologies are already making inroads into some of Latin America’s principal industries. For example, carmakers, which employ hundreds of thousands of people across the region, are rapidly deploying robots that are more efficient and precise than humans. In South America’s grain belt, GPS-guided machinery is diminishing the need for farmhands, even as output increases.

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