At the Australian Gartner Symposium conference today MIT researcher and futurist Andrew McAfee gave the day’s closing keynote on his book The Second Machine Age, a book written with co-author Erik Brynjolfsson “because we got confused” about technological change.
McAfee’s message is that the rate of technological change is about to accelerate dramatically, that change is not going to be gradual but abrupt and businesses have to prepared for a very different world.
Another of McAfee’s points is a decoupling between incomes and growth has happened around the world, particularly in the US, which has changed the assumptions underlying economic growth.
Interestingly, McAfee’s chart shows US household incomes diverged from growth in the mid 1970s during the post oil shock stagflation predating the personal computer and internet booms.
The breaking of the linkage between economic growth and incomes underpins the rise of the precariat — those with uncertain jobs and career prospects — which gave rise to Douglas Coupland’s Generation X.
While the bulk of the pain in the last forty year’s disruption was felt by lower income and younger workers, the pain is now extending to the middle classes as described by Stephen Rattner in the New York Times.
Those changes are certainly not wholly attributable to technological change but as more jobs are lost to robots and algorithms, that process will accelerate.
For McAfee, the challenge for business leaders and policy makers is to ensure growth and opportunities are evenly spread; “our job is to make smart choices to create a healthy society and economy.”
How well we as a society manage this will define our times.