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Commentary :: Labor
Technology, Unemployment and Policy Options
19 Mar 2014
Navigating the Transition to a Better World

Journal of Evolution and Technology - Vol. 24 Issue 1 – February 2014 - pgs 26-44


There is growing concern that emerging technologies such as computers, robotics and artificial intelligence are displacing human jobs, creating an epidemic of “technological unemployment.” While this projection has yet to be confirmed, if true it will have major economic and social repercussions for our future. It is therefore appropriate to begin identifying policy options to address this potential problem. This article offers an economic and social framework for addressing this problem, and then provides an inventory of possible policy options organized into the following six categories:
(a) slowing innovation and change; (b) sharing work; (c) making new work; (d) redistribution; (e) education; and (f) fostering a new social contract.


The Luddite fear and prediction that technology will displace many workers and lead to widespread unemployment may, after many false alarms,finally be coming true. At the same time, the utopian vision of humans being liberated from a life filled mostly with the drudgery of manual or mindless labor to enjoy a productive,happier and more meaningful level of existence through art, music, literature, and rich social relationships, such as that suggested by behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner (1948) in Walden Two,may also be closer to realization.

Navigating the tension between these negative and positive perspectives on the growing displacement of human labor by technology requires a calculated and delicate effort to manage this critical period of transformation. If handled poorly, the widespread displacement of workers by technology could result in rapidly expanding economic divergence between rich and poor, economic poverty and social unrest for growing numbers of dislocated workers, backlashes against technology and social institutions, and economic and social decline. If properly managed, the use of technology to replace mundane, lackluster, repetitive, dangerous or strenuous labor, could free us to live more enjoyable, meaningful and leisurely lives.
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