IDE Leaders Shed Light on the Complexities of Digital Automation

In three recent radio interviews, IDE director, Erik Brynjolfsson, co-director, Andrew McAfee, and Professor Sinan Aral, addressed a few of the thorny nuances businesses face as automation and digital disruption take hold.

Brynjolfsson spoke with The Economist radio show, MoneyTalks, and noted that governments are failing to address the huge impact of automation at their own peril. Brynjolfsson is concerned that politicians are ignoring the “tectonic forces” affecting jobs, income and productivity. Moreover, he says, they’re overlooking potential benefits, such as redistribution of wealth, that automation can bring. He goes on to emphasize the importance of education and re-training; entrepreneurship, and an earned income tax credit to spur growth in the digital economy. The full interview begins at 11:00 in this report.

McAfee, speaking on The Economist radio program, Babbage, from the World Economic Forum in Davos Jan. 19, addressed how rapidly robots are poised to disrupt global industries, and what the implications may be. It may be that policies, not technologies, will slow the progress of automation because of the fears of job loss, he said. But that disregards the global prosperity resulting from automation and it will keep advances — such as medical assistance and tools for the elderly or the disabled — out of reach for many, he said. Listen to the full interview at the beginning of this report.

Also listen to McAfee’s comments on BBC radio about the acceleration of technological progress and how workers — at all levels — are being effected. Is a Universal Basic Income the solution? “I’m hostile to it,” McAfee said.

And drilling down further into the impact of new digital technologies, Aral, interviewed Jan. 6 by Thompson Reuters’ Marketplace radio, offered thoughts about of the viability ad-driven media models. The discussion centered on content site, Medium, which that day announced the layoff of 50 people — a third of its workforce. Founder Evan Williams, who also co-founded Twitter, wanted Medium to be a site for great writing. But, he said, the ad-driven model is “broken,” emphasizing eyeballs, not quality. Aral said micropayments might be a good alternative model where high-quality articles get rewarded. Listen to the full segment here.

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