Automation Addresses Poverty?

A New York Times article from the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality offers an alternative view of the effect of automation on human workers.

Americans worry a lot about robots taking over jobs, and they have good reason to worry about this. The reshoring phenomenon appears to be bringing production back to the States, but robots are doing the work. Human factory workers aren’t being called back to their jobs in large numbers.

At the same time, 84% of manufacturers say that they can’t fill the jobs they want to offer human workers. This is one of the greatest frustrations we hear from people across the industry: the average worker is in his 50s, and Millennials — who now make up one third of the workforce in the U.S. — have neither the skills nor the desire to learn those skills.

Elisabeth Mason, a senior adviser at the Stanford Center, sees a place for artificial intelligence in solving this problem.

Big Data has the ability to identify the areas of need in manufacturing and to match them up with people needing work. That factory in Auburn may not have a local pool of qualified workers to choose from, but a national database could identify an aid recipient in Camden who could do the job. Automated training centers like those pioneered by Rexroth could fill the gaps between what the targeted worker can do now and the skills needed for that job opening in Auburn.

Current unemployment and job training programs have a dismal record, but hard to manipulate automated systems without bias — and with an automatically updated database connecting needs with capacity — could get more people to work and cut the cost of public assistance.

Mason says, “Big data sets can now be harnessed to better predict which programs help certain people at a given time and to quickly assess whether programs are having the desired effect.” This data, along with more effective automated back-to-work programs, could return safety-net programs to their intended use.

It’s just one more way automation could be used creatively to improve our lives.

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