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No Robo-Apocalypse

It is now conventional wisdom to think that rapid automation and advances in artificial intelligence will eventually render most professions obsolete, ushering in an age of mass unemployment. But there is no economic law that says workers must lose out when new innovations are introduced.

DURHAM – The new Gilded Age is here. As the rich and powerful collect the most advanced technological gadgets, average workers are increasingly concerned about the “rising tide of automation.”

There is plenty of fodder for a narrative about the inevitable large-scale displacement of workers by robots. Proliferating reports assert that technological unemployment will exacerbate economic insecurity and make employment more precarious. While an oft-cited Oxford University study warns that 47% of US jobs are at risk of being taken over by robots, McKinsey & Company tells us that it’s not that bad: only one-third of workers will be displaced by machines.

Yet it is simply wrong to assume that such outcomes are inevitable. Historically, automation has created far more jobs than it has destroyed, and advances in technology have led to higher wages, longer life expectancy, faster growth, rising employment, and less dangerous and menial work.