Il futuro

YouTube was founded in 2005 by three people. Less than two years later, the company was purchased by Google for about $ 1.65 billion. At the time of its acquisition, YouTube employed a mere sixty-five people, the majority of them highly skilled engineers. That works out to a valuation of over $ 25 million per employee. In April 2012, Facebook acquired photo-sharing start-up Instagram for $ 1 billion. The company employed thirteen people. That’s roughly $ 77 million per worker. Fast-forward another two years to February 2014 and Facebook once again stepped up to the plate, this time purchasing mobile messagingcompany WhatsApp for $ 19 billion. WhatsApp had a workforce of fifty-five—giving it a valuation of a staggering $ 345 million per employee. Soaring per-employee valuations are a vivid demonstration of the way accelerating information and communications technology can leverage the efforts of a tiny workforce into enormous investment value and revenue. What’s more, they offer compelling evidence for how the relationship between technology and employment has changed. There is a widely held belief—based on historical evidence stretching back at least as far as the industrial revolution—that while technology may certainly destroy jobs, businesses, and even entire industries, it will also create entirely new occupations, and the ongoing process of “creative destruction” will result in the emergence of new industries and employment sectors—often in areas that we can’t yet imagine. A classic example is the rise of the automotive industry in the early twentieth century, and the corresponding demise of businesses engaged in manufacturing horse-drawn carriages. As we saw in Chapter 3, however, information technology hasnow reached the point where it can be considered a true utility, much like electricity. It seems nearly inconceivable that successful new industries will emerge that do not take full advantage of that powerful new utility, as well as the distributed machine intelligence that accompanies it. As a result, emerging industries will rarely, if ever, be highly labor-intensive. The threat to overall employment is that as creative destruction unfolds, the “destruction” will fall primarily on labor-intensive businesses in traditional areas like retail and food preparation, while the “creation” will generate new businesses and industries that simply don’t hire many people. In other words, the economy is likely on a path toward a tipping point where job creation will begin to fall consistently short of what is required to fully employ the workforce.

‘Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future’, by Martin Ford, 2016

Edizione italiana: “Il futuro senza lavoro. Accelerazione tecnologica e macchine intelligenti. Come prepararsi alla rivoluzione economica in arrivo” Il Saggiatore, 2017

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