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Robots will not eat the jobs but will unleash our creativity; Tech revolution has put the means of production within everyone’s grasp, says Marc Andreessen

June 23, 2014 5:25 pm

Robots will not eat the jobs but will unleash our creativity

By Marc Andreessen

Tech revolution has put the means of production within everyone’s grasp, says Marc Andreessen

Agrowing number of people seem to fear that robots will eat all the jobs. Their worry boils down to this: computers can increasingly replace human labour thus displacing jobs and creating unemployment. Your job, and every job, will go to a machine.

It is textbook Luddism, relying on a “lump of labour” fallacy – the idea that there is a fixed amount of work to be done in the world by humans. The counterargument comes from economists such as Milton Friedman, who believe that human wants and needs are infinite, which means there is always more to do.

The early 19th century Luddites had it wrong when they destroyed new labour-saving machinery in the north of England. The only way their reasoning would apply today is if you believe human nature in the 21st century is dramatically different: that either there will not be new wants and needs; or that, even if there were, most people would lack the skills to find work in the new fields where those wants and needs are being created.

While it is true that technological change is displacing work and jobs – a serious issue that must be addressed – it is equally true that another result of such changes is a marked increase in living standards. One consequence of a growing robot workforce is that products become less expensive. Indeed, the main reason to use robots instead of people to make something is when robots can make it at significantly lower cost.

When we are behaving and thinking as consumers, we rarely resist technological change that provides us with better, cheaper products and services even when it costs jobs. Nor should we. This is how we build a better world and provide for our children. Seeking to slow technological change to preserve jobs is equivalent to advocating the punishment of consumers and stalling efforts to improve our quality of life.

There is still an enormous gap between what many people do in jobs today and what robots and artificial intelligence can replace

So what is the best way of helping those who are losing jobs they want to keep as a result of these changes?

First, offer better access to education and skills development, which itself will increasingly be delivered through technology, to help them train for or even create new jobs. Second, let markets work – this means employment contracts that are easier for both employees and employers to terminate – so that capital and labour can be reallocated rapidly to create new fields and jobs.

Third, create and sustain a secure social safety net so that displaced workers are not stranded and unable to provide for their families. Rapid improvements in technological productivity and the resulting economic growth would make it easy to pay for the safety net – something the tech industry should take a hard look at helping facilitate.

What is often forgotten in all this robot fear-mongering is that the technology revolution has put the means of production within everyone’s grasp. It comes in the form of the smartphone, the tablet and the PC with broadband internet connection. With that minimum technological spec, practically everyone on the planet will have access to unlimited information, communication and education by 2020.

Once billions have access to the necessary tools to participate in the global economy, it is hard to believe the result will be anything other than the widespread unleashing of creativity, productivity and human potential. It is preposterous to think people will come up with absolutely nothing useful.

This is probably a good time to say that I do not believe robots will eat all the jobs. Here is why.

For a start, robots and artificial intelligence are not nearly as powerful and sophisticated as some people fear. There are big gaps between what we want them to do and what they can do. This means there is still an enormous gap between what many people do in jobs today and what robots and artificial intelligence can replace.

And even when robots and artificial intelligence are far more powerful, decades from now, there will still be many things people can do that they cannot. For example, creativity, innovation, exploration, art, science, entertainment and caring for others.

Finally, when automation is abundant and cheap, human experience becomes rare and valuable. We see it all around us. The price of recorded music is reduced to zero and the live music touring business explodes, for example. Or the cost of run-of-the-mill coffee drops; the market for handmade gourmet coffee grows. This trend will extend to other sectors and consumers.

Fourth, just as most of us have jobs that were not even invented 100 years ago, the same will be true 100 years from now. We have no idea what those jobs will be, but I am certain there will be an enormous number of them.

To argue that huge numbers of people will be put out of work but we will find nothing for them – for us – to do is to short human creativity dramatically. And I am long on human creativity.
The writer is co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz and Netscape

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About bambooinnovator
KB Kee is the Managing Editor of the Moat Report Asia (www.moatreport.com), a research service focused exclusively on highlighting undervalued wide-moat businesses in Asia; subscribers from North America, Europe, the Oceania and Asia include professional value investors with over $20 billion in asset under management in equities, some of the world’s biggest secretive global hedge fund giants, and savvy private individual investors who are lifelong learners in the art of value investing. KB has been rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as an analyst in Asian capital markets. He was head of research and fund manager at a Singapore-based value investment firm. As a member of the investment committee, he helped the firm’s Asia-focused equity funds significantly outperform the benchmark index. He was previously the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. KB has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy, value investing, macroeconomic and industry trends, and detecting accounting frauds in Singapore, HK and China. KB was a faculty (accounting) at SMU teaching accounting courses. KB is currently the Chief Investment Officer at an ASX-listed investment holdings company since September 2015, helping to manage the listed Asian equities investments in the Hidden Champions Fund. Disclaimer: This article is for discussion purposes only and does not constitute an offer, recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any investments, securities, futures or options. All articles in the website reflect the personal opinions of the writer.

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