Does technology help or hurt employment? | MIT News | News World

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This is part 2 of a two-part MIT News feature examining new job creation in the U.S. since 1940, based on new research from Ford Professor of Economics David Autor. Part 1 is available here.

Ever since the Luddites were destroying machine looms, it has been obvious that new technologies can wipe out jobs. But technical innovations also create new jobs: Consider a computer programmer, or someone installing solar panels on a roof.

Overall, does technology replace more jobs than it creates? What is the net balance between these two things? Until now, that has not been measured. But a new research project led by MIT economist David Autor has developed an answer, at least for U.S. history since 1940.

The study uses new methods to examine how many jobs have been lost to machine automation, and how many have been generated through “augmentation,” in which technology creates new tasks. On net, the study finds, and particularly since 1980, technology has replaced more U.S. jobs than it has generated.

“There does appear to be a faster rate of automation, and a slower rate of augmentation, in the last four decades, from 1980 to the present, than in the four decades prior,” says Autor, co-author of a newly published paper detailing the results.

However, that finding is only one of the study’s advances. The researchers have also developed an entirely new method for studying the issue, based on an analysis of tens of thousands of U.S. census job categories in relation to a comprehensive look at the text of U.S. patents over the last century. That has allowed them, for the first time,…

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