Provocative Words: Computers, Labor and Inequality

A thought provoking (if a bit jumbled) perspective on a the “digital divide,” with respect to labor markets, from Christopher Mims in Quartz (a new source to me) and tipped by Library Link of the Day. A few choice bits:

Our Computer Overlords

Early IT disasters: Katherine Hepburn is (elegantly) dismayed by Spencer Tracy's computer innovations in the 1957 film Desk Set.
Early IT disasters: Katherine Hepburn is (elegantly) dismayed by Spencer Tracy’s computer innovations in the 1957 film Desk Set.

“The spread of computers and the Internet will put jobs in two categories,” said Andreessen. “People who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do.” It’s a glib remark—but increasingly true.

Software Eats Everything

Recently I sat down with the team at Betterment, a tech startup to which people have already handed over $150 million in assets. For many, that money represents a significant chunk of their savings and retirement accounts. Betterment is the sort of company that, if it does well, will someday be a canonical example of the principle that “software eats everything.” It’s an attempt replace the kind of job you might think is still beyond the reach of an algorithm: personal financial advice.

Got a Company? It’s a Tech Company

It’s [technology has] already become so ubiquitous that, argues one of my colleagues, it’s now ridiculous to call some firms as “tech” companies when all companies depend on it so much.

Some concepts seem to be somewhat clumsily stirred together here (if elegantly expressed), but I do think the role of tech in the inequality story isn’t so often told. (Tony Judt’s “Ill Fares the Land,” for instance, which I read last year, focuses mostly on the idea of liberalism and the role of government.)

It’s beyond the brief of Mims, but his point about there being no such thing as a “non-tech” biz, prompts me to wonder whether the same is true of culture? Is there any “non-tech culture?” What we consume as culture or entertainment, is, at minimum, usually delivered or mediated by technology most of the time, and sometimes a great deal more than just mediated.

If there are no analog jobs any more, is there any analog entertainment? Does it matter?

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