Why workers in neoliberal economies are set up to lose the ‘race against the machine’

As readers of this blog (and my Observer column) will know, Erik Brynjolfsson’s and Andrew McAfee’s Race Against the Machine has influenced the way I think about technology and our networked future. This talk by John Hagel presents an insightful gloss on the book’s analysis. Hagel argues that the reason so many modern jobs are so vulnerable to automation is that they have effectively been designed to be vulnerable. They tend to be “tightly scripted,” “highly standardized,” and leave no room for “individual initiative or creativity.” In short, these are the types of jobs that machines can perform much better at than human beings. So what effectively is going on is companies putting “a giant target sign on the backs of American workers”.

So every time you see a manager or administrator proudly unveiling a new paper or online form for imposing bureaucratic order on an organisational process that hitherto had been entrusted to human judgement, you will know where the targets are being affixed.

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