|Process Player Piano|
Nearly two years ago, Kat Neil wrote about declining public trust in innovation. It is becoming increasingly apparent that economic growth and innovation is not benefitting everyone, and that it needs to be addressed by policy and society. At the SPRU conference, a session on IP looked at clashes between intellectual property rights and human rights’ protection.
An ongoing concern is the potential that the participation of low-skilled workers in production will be rendered obsolete. A dystopian take on this suggests that innovation in Artificial Intelligence (AI) will give rise to the Useless Class, a disenfranchised section of society with skills for which there is no demand. The potential social fall-out from this disenfranchisement is extremely unpleasant with a large portion of society no longer having a "reason to get up in the morning."
|No one ever believed Cassandra|
These debates are not new, in Kurt Vonnegut Jr's 1952 debut novel, Player Piano, an American society operates in a guaranteed work scheme, where citizen's lot in life is determined by IQ and National General Classification Tests. It's not a pretty picture. Large portions of society are idle or superficially employed, the fabric of society is in tatters, and innovators are constantly innovating people out of jobs. (I thoroughly recommend the book, with the caveat that it thoroughly fails the Bechdel test.)
The First Industrial Revolution devalued muscle work, then the second one devalued routine mental work. ...
"Do you suppose there'll be a Third Industrial Revolution?" Paul paused in his office doorway. "A third one? What would that be like?"
"I don't know exactly. The first and second ones must have been sort of inconceivable at one time."
"To the people who were going to be replaced by machines, maybe. A third one, eh? In a way, I guess the third one's been going on for some time, if you mean thinking machines. That would be the third revolution, I guess - machines that devaluate human thinking. Some of the big computers like EPICAC do that all right, in specialized fields.
- Kurt Vonnegut Jr, 1952
|Or are we crying wolf?|
Returning to a more depressing note, a session on entrepreneurship, policy and industrial dynamics highlighted that we have virtually no empirical evidence that innovation policies work. Professor David Storey reported that, after decades of research in this area, he no longer trusts self-report evidence (e.g. surveys.) Participants in innovation support schemes nearly always report that the scheme was beneficial, while a handful of studies which do not rely on surveys suggest otherwise. Your Katonomist raised the subject of Randomised Control Trials (RCTs, a technique often used in medical research where subjects are randomly assigned placebo or treatment groups) as potentially the great white hope of innovation research. RCTs may prove more robust, but, as Professor Marc Cowling noted, they still use self-report data. I suspect we will see more on this in the future.
Are we really heading into a dystopian vision of masses of unemployed where only specialist, knowledge-based skills are in demand? The IPKat community can be relatively secure in our highly human and intellectual capital heavy industry. However, changes in innovation may affect demand for our services. We'll be in better shape once we've invented the crystal ball.