“We salute our robot overlords!”

So if you’re looking for something different to worry about, how about the future of work in a time of smart machines and artificial intelligence.  Here in Ohio we all are well aware of how computers and robots in combination with rapid overseas industrialization changed manufacturing forever and drastically reduced the number and kinds of jobs that were the basis stable blue-collar work.  Now the machines are coming for the clerical and white-collar jobs.  Pew Research has done some work on this topic, Public Predictions for the Future of Workforce Automation    takes a look at public attitudes this year, and  AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs collected opinions of various experts in 2014.  Lee Rainie from Pew gave a talk this year in Australia that touched on this topic as well other questions about the future role of libraries in The Puzzle Librarians Need to Solve.  A cover story in The Atlantic last year, A World without Work, starts with the collapse of the steel industry in Youngstown and goes on to discuss what how the same disruption is happening in many other parts of the economy.

For a deeper dive, take a look at several recent books:

Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future by  Martin Ford

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in an Age of Artificial Intelligence by Jerry Kaplan

Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines by Thomas H. Davenport and Julia Kirby

While these books each take a somewhat different tack, all pivot on the question of with the question of what effect the increasing automation of work will have on society.   If the service and manufacturing sectors can produce the same output more profitably and cheaper with ever fewer workers, what are people going to do?  OLC is asking us to submit stories of how we are helping our communities and individual patrons with improving job skills and workforce.  In the short term, there are many useful things we can do, and are doing.   But, the future seems more uncertain.

Tom Dillie, Director
Minerva Public Library

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