What History Tells Us About the Accelerating Revolution

DESPARDES — The Internet of Things (IoT) is on its way; Artificial intelligence can guess personality from selfie; And a team of researchers in Australia has achieved the world’s fastest internet speed — 1 million times faster than current broadband. It will allow users to download 1,000 HD movies in a single second.

“We are at the brink of a technological revolution that promises not just to fundamentally alter the structure of our economy, but also to reshape the social fabric more broadly”, writes Oxford professor Carl Benedikt Frey in his 2019 book The Technology Trap.

Its chapter on What History Tells Us About the Coming AI Revolution has been included in Technology at Work v4.0, the fourth report in the Technology at Work Series developed by Citigroup in collaboration with Oxford University. 

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“History tells us anxiety tends to accompany rapid technological change, especially when technology takes the form of capital which threatens people’s jobs,” writes Mr. Frey.

The Covid-19 pandemic looks to likely accelerate the rate and pace of technological change, says WSJ.

In its latest article on the AI Revolution vis-a-vis the Industrial Revolution, WSJ refers to Mr. Frey’s insights on the lead and lag of the coming change albeit “new normal”.

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“Many of the trends we see today, such as the disappearance of middle-income jobs, stagnant wages and growing inequality were also features of the Industrial Revolution”.

The short run consequences of rapid technological change can be devastating for working people, especially when technology takes the form of capital which substitutes for labor, it says.

When upskilling is lagging behind, entire social groups might end up being excluded from the growth engine.

In the long run, it may lead to a rising standard of living, improved health, and many other benefits, the report says. “Yet in the short run, the lives of working people got nastier, more brutish, and shorter during the Industrial Revolution. And what economists regard as ‘the short run’ was a lifetime, for some,” given that it generally takes decades to realize the benefits of transformative technologies.