Race against the machine

I listened to a fascinating podcast today on the role of technology in the US economy.

This will be of particular interest to younger readers of the ITSM Review who might be thinking about what career path to plot or those with a general interest in the exponential growth of IT.

“Peter Day talks with the authors of the book Race Against the Machine and finds out what the rise of the robots is going to mean to all of our lives.”

The podcast features Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee from the MIT Center for Digital Business

If you place one grain of rice on the first square of a chess board, two on the second square, four on the third space and keep doubling the amount of rice each time - how much rice will be on the 64th square?

In a nutshell:

Productivity increases whilst job growth is stagnant

The MIT professors claim that job creation, which used to peg equally with productivity, has ‘decoupled’. New job creation grew on a par with productivity since the second world war until around the year 2000.

Since then productivity has grown whilst new job creation and income growth has stalled. The professors argue one of the main drivers of this ‘decoupling’ is technology.

Moore’s Law – The best is yet to come

Moore’s law states that computing power doubles every 18 to 24 months. Computing power doubling over a couple of years is quite easy to grasp, but that computing power doubling every couple of years for several generations is a different kettle of fish…

The MIT professors used a good parable to describe the magnitude of this exponential growth in technology performance

“So the story goes that the king asks what a wise man wants in reward for his services. The wise man asks the king to look at his chessboard. On the first space, he wants 1 grain of rice. On the second space, he wants 2 grains of rice, double that of the previous space. He then wants 4, 8, 16, 32, and so on, doubling the previous space for the 64 spaces of the chessboard” ^Source

i.e. It’s a heck of a lot of rice on the last square of the chess board and most of the gains are made in the second half of the board.

“In technology strategy, the second half of the chessboard is a phrase, coined by Ray Kurzweil, in reference to the point where an exponentially growing factor begins to have a significant economic impact on an organization’s overall business strategy.”

The MIT professors suggest that Moore’s law is entering the ‘second half of the board’ and we should expect unparalleled increases in productivity and capabilities from computing.

I also found this TED talk which explains things further:

TED TALK: Andrew McAfee: Are droids taking our jobs?

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3 thoughts on “Race against the machine”

  1. These guys make good headlines with Chicke Little “The droids are coming! the droids are coming!”. Sells books but doesn’t contribute much. There was too much here for a comment so I blogged about it, but in short:

    Productivity has been rising at astonishing rates for along time. i don’t see any increase in the last decade. productivity has struggled.

    Every technology advance does away with jobs – yay! Jobs are about exchange of value between people and that goes on, despite disappearing jobs and an 8000-fold increase in population and a similar rise in productivity.

    Sure jobs and income have stalled since 2000: there are plenty of reasons for that which have nothing to do with a “decoupling” of technology.

    Extrapolating an exponential curve in the real world is just nonsense. MIT profs should know better.

    More here http://www.itskeptic.org/content/chicken-itle-robots-and-chessboard

      1. Not bleak, optimistic. I am optimistic that robots will relieve drudgery, that new jobs will spring up to replace the old, and that the rates of change will not be exponential. I’m optimistic that there is no decoupling of jobs from productivity growth, that droids aren’t eating the gains, that any effects these guys think they are seeing is the wild swings of the GFC and other financial shennanigans of the last decade.

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