The book. Will men meet the same fate as horses? In the 1980s, the economist Wassily Leontief (1906-1999) became interested in the disappearance of equines in metropolitan areas between the end of the 19e and the beginning of the XXe century. Cars and tractors had then ousted the horses and their tractive power. “A new technology, the combustion engine, had succeeded in replacing a creature which, for millennia, had played a central role in economic life”relates the British researcher Daniel Susskind, in his book A world without work (Flammarion, 340 pages, 24 euros)). For Mr. Leontief, the technological wind that had gotten the better of the horses would sooner or later have the same impact on humans: robots and computers would eventually take our jobs away from us.
The fear of task automation and innovation closely follows the history of industrial progress. She has always been accompanied by Cassandra, but also, sometimes, by more reassuring figures, having confidence in the economic laws of the moment. They predicted that the workers “victims of technology” would find a job. They were often right, believes the author.
However, the situation could change in the decades to come, as we leave the“working age”. This is the whole point of Mr. Susskind’s essay. The economist explains how current and future technological advances are preparing an unprecedented disruption. “Machines are becoming more and more powerful and are taking over tasks that were previously reserved for men”, he notes. The place of humans in the world of work can therefore only contract.
The meaning of life and work
Artificial intelligence acts like a steamroller in many sectors of activity. Machines are now proving to be more reliable than some specialists for carrying out medical diagnoses, computer tools are capable of calculating the indemnities to be paid in the insurance sector, others can write activity reports. At the same time, solutions acquire real relational capacities and an ability to detect human emotions.
Consequently, the “technological unemployment” should become a massive phenomenon. “In the next hundred years, technological advances will make us richer than ever – even as they lead us into a world where work will be a scarce commodity”, summarizes the author. Mr Susskind therefore calls, as of today, for reflection in order to prepare this “world after”.
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