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1 December 2015 CFA Institute Journal Review

Same as It Ever Was: Why Techno-Optimists Are Wrong (Digest Summary)

  1. Michal Szudejko

Technological progress undoubtedly influences how people live, both economically and socially. Current developments are more incremental compared with innovations in the 19th and 20th centuries. Nevertheless, they can still trigger significant changes—positive or negative—in society and in business conduct. Some measures can and should be taken to diminish adverse outcomes.

What’s Inside?

The author discusses the influence of the most recent technological advancements on the economic and social aspects of people’s lives. He also discusses how the breakthroughs of the 20th century actually pale in comparison with changes that took place in the 19th century, which broadly influenced life and introduced unparalleled social and economic change. Even though contemporary innovations—for example, mobile communication and the internet—are not as revolutionary as the car or telephone, they exert significant influence on the way we live. One example of such influence is globalization. Hence, it is vital to discuss how to adapt to these changes. The influence of today’s inventions can be negative or positive for society. Some measures will be required to reduce the negative aspects, such as the loss of jobs to automation.

How Is This Article Useful to Practitioners?

Current technological changes will have much less of an impact on the world than people expect, according to the author. He explains that people today place too much importance on the significance of current technological advancements because they take for granted the innovations of the 19th century, which gave the world refrigeration, clean water, healthier pregnancies, increased life expectancy, and speedier communication. He also notes that much of the technology in use today—for example, computers, the internet, and e-commerce—is actually relatively old.

But the author indicates areas that could change because of current advancements in technology and suggests some measures to manage such changes. One area of potential change is the job market. The demand for low- to middle-skilled workers will inevitably decline because of growing automation. Such a shift will subsequently result in changes in income distribution, with larger flows going to the owners of the machinery (capital) and to highly skilled workers. The most obvious outcome of this trend will be the growth of social inequality. The changes in the job market will also affect the future of education. It will be more difficult to choose an educational path that will guarantee financial success or even a job for the longer term.

These changes will put pressure on governments to introduce new means of redistributing income to reduce the inequalities that will result. The demand for labor needs to expand because, thanks to population growth, the supply of labor is infinite. But the overall demand for labor may decline, which would mean that new ideas for activities useful to the economy would be more than welcome.

Another area of change will be in leisure time. There have always been people who spend more of their time on leisure activities than work. The development of more intelligent machines will allow people to complete work more quickly and have much more leisure time without such conduct being at the cost of another person’s labor.

Abstractor’s Viewpoint

Although the article has little immediate use for practitioners, it offers an interesting discussion of what the near future could look like. The article is thought-provoking, touching on questions that many people today ask or should ask. But it is a discussion of a hypothesis rather than academic research. The author’s conclusions do not rest on systematic, evidence-based reasoning but on assumptions. The usefulness of the article is moderate for those in finance, but it is certainly interesting.

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