Americans at Work in the Age of Robots and Artificial Intelligence

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Benjamin M. Friedman (Department of Economics)
Freshman Seminar 71G  4 credits (fall term)  Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Where will the coming generation of Americans (say, today's 18-year-olds) find jobs? And will the jobs be worth having? People have worried about losing their jobs to technology at least since the Luddites 200 years ago. In the aggregate, they have been wrong. The automobile put lots of stable boys and saddle makers out of work, but it created vastly more jobs making cars, and fueling them and repairing them, and it opened the way for whole new industries like roadside motels and restaurants. With robots increasingly performing the tasks once done by blue-collar labor, however, and computers and artificial intelligence now eliminating the need for many workers once thought to be immune because of their cognitive skills, today's technological threat seems different. It is no longer just the unskilled and undereducated whose jobs are at risk. Moreover, the challenge may be especially acute in America, where wages are far higher than in many other countries and an ever-greater share of what we consume and invest not only can be provided from overseas but often is. Does the next generation of Americans, then, face a genuine threat from advancing workplace technology? If so, what are the dangers? Not just economic, but social, political, even moral, to the country as a whole? Most importantly, what can we do about it?

See also: Fall 2020