Worker Groups Who Will Inherit the Earth

Framework

In Race Against The Machines, economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAffee explain that as machines becomes intelligent, companies are more likely to hire new machines rather than new people. Consequently, to succeed as a worker in economy of the future, Brynjolfsson and McAffee suggest that one would be best served by falling into three groups

  1. Highly-Skilled Workers
  2.  Superstars
  3. The Owners

Highly-Skilled Workers

Those who build machines and the software that runs them or those who are able to augment their own capabilities with the assistance of intelligent machines. Cal Newport describes how famed statistician augments his analysis through machine assistance: “Nate Silver, of course, with his comfort in feeding data into large databases, then siphoning it out into his mysterious Monte Carlo simulations, is the epitome of the high-skilled worker. Intelligent machines are not an obstacle to Silver’s success, but instead provide its precondition” (24, Deep Work)

The Superstars

This group benefits from the power of technology to more widely distribute their products or communicate across long distances. This group possesses a skill or product of high value and is high demand. In the past, these superstars ability to sell their talents was limited to their immediate geography, which meant that their competitors could still sell their talents to the areas where the superstars were not; markets were more localized. Now, the Internet has made it possible for the best within a given area to displace the local monopolies. As a result, superstars can now sell their value at unprecedented scale at the expense of the non-superstars.

The Owners

Those with capital to invest in technology will be capable of rapidly growing their capital. Cal Newport explains the implications of McAfee / Brynjolfsson’s ‘Great Restructuring’ theory:

“The Great Restructuring, unlike the postwar period, is a particularly good time to have access to capital. To understand why, first recall that bargaining theory, a key component in standard economic thinking, argues that when money is made through the combination of capital investment and labor, the rewards are returned, roughly speaking, proportional to the input. As digital technology reduces the need for labor in many industries, the proportion of the rewards returned to those who own the intelligent machines is growing. A venture capitalist in today’s economy can fund a company like Instagram, which was eventually sold for a billion dollars, while employing only thirteen people” (27, Deep Work)

 

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