Automatic checkouts, call center systems, innovations on assembly lines, automation technologies are now being deployed on a large scale in many sectors. A new study conducted by researchers from MIT and Boston University estimates that the latter have played a major role in the explosion of income inequality in the United States in recent decades.
Is automation responsible for inequalities?
The authors assert that these innovations only generate a fairly low or even zero gain in productivity. However, these machines are generally excellent for the results of the companies concerned which also manage to dominate the competition by adopting these strategies. The social consequences are very negative.
Thus, since the 1980s, the incomes of those with a university degree have increased a lot at Uncle Sam. At the same time, the incomes of men without high school diplomas have fallen by 15%, if we takes inflation into account.
To carry out their research, the scientists compiled statistics from 49 sectors from 1987 to 2016, as well as the machines and software used throughout this period. And the result could not be clearer, since they find that automation explains between 50 and 70% of the income inequality observed in the United States.
According to the researchers, technology is obviously not the only culprit. Moreover, these innovations do not fall from the sky and are part of a social and political context. Thus, the power of negotiation and influence of workers is, according to them, essential in the pace of automation.
Threats to employment in Europe
These concerns are also found in Europe. In 2020, McKinsey suggested that 53 million jobs, or 26% of the workforce of the old continent were threatened by automation by 2030.
However, experts believed that new jobs could also be created, particularly in the education, information and communication technologies, health and social work sectors.
The authors also judged then that if the current rate of automation continues, workers will have to learn new skills because the tasks they currently perform would be performed by machines.
However, the arrival of generative models such as ChatGPT or Midjourney could also threaten many qualified professions that previously thought they were beyond the reach of innovations linked to artificial intelligence. In this context, the establishment of a universal income, long requested by certain political movements, would be on the agenda.