2014 WhoOwnstheRobotsRulestheWorld

Jump to: navigation, search

Subject Headings: Technological Unemployment, Employee Ownership.


Cited By


Author Keywords


As companies substitute machines and computers for human activity, workers need to own part of the capital stock that substitutes for them to benefit from these new "robot" technologies. Workers could own shares of the firm, hold stock options, or be paid in part from the profits. Without ownership stakes, workers will become serfs working on behalf of the robots' overlords. Governments could tax the]]wealthy capital owners]] and redistribute income to workers, but that is not the direction societies are moving in. Workers need to own capital rather than rely on government income redistribution policies.


What explains the high rate of joblessness in many advanced countries four years into the recovery from recession? Some analysts and headline writers believe that the development of robots and other machines with artificial intelligence explains much of the jobs problem (see Robot substitutes for human labor). Behind the headlines are advances in artificial intelligence that create machines that are far better substitutes for human intelligence than seemed possible just a few years ago: the Google driverless car; the chess-playing computer Deep Blue, beating Kasparov as world champion; Watson, the artificially intelligent computer system, becoming the greatest Jeopardy player; the Google search engine knowing more than any of us on every subject.

Robot substitutes for human labor

The term “robots” refers broadly to any sort of machinery, from computers to artificial intelligence programs, that provides a good substitute for work currently performed by humans. It does not matter whether a robot/machine has a humanoid appearance, as long as it can perform human functions. Advances in computer power and artificial intelligence that can assess information and make decisions are rapidly improving the ability of machines to perform complicated tasks that seemed impossible just a decade or so ago. Taking the continuing progress in developing smarter technologies as a given, the focus here is on the social and economic issue of the ownership of these technologies.



Further reading
Key references
  1. Brynjolfsson, E., and D. McAfee. Race against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy. Lexington, MA: Digital Frontier Press, 2012.
  2. Frey, C. B., and M. A. Osborne. The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation? Oxford Martin School Working Paper, September 17, 2013. Online at: http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf
  3. Hardy, Q. “IBM to announce more powerful Watson via the internet.” New York Times, November 13, 2013. Online at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/14/technology/ibm-toannounce-more-powerful-watson-via-the-internet.html?_r=0&pagewanted=print
  4. Rifkin, J. The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era. Kirkwood, NY: Putnam Publishing Group, 1995.
  5. Pecchi, L., and G. Piga (eds). Revisiting Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008.
  6. Simon, H. A. The Shape of Automation (for Men and Management). New York: Harper and Row, 1965.
  7. Mishel, L., J. Schmitt, and H. Shierholz. Robots: Assessing the Job Polarization Explanation of Growing Wage Inequality. Economic Policy Institute Working Paper No. 295, January 11, 2013. Online at: http://www.epi.org/publication/wp295-assessing-job-polarization-explanationwage-inequality
  8. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. OECD Employment Outlook 2012. Paris: OECD, 2012.
  9. Blasi, J. R., R. B. Freeman, and D. L. Kruse. The Citizen’s Share: Putting Ownership Back in Democracy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.
  10. Lowitzsch, J., I. Hashi, and R. Woodward. The PEPPER IV Report: Benchmarking of Employee Participation in Profits and Enterprise Results in the Member and Candidate Countries of the European Union. Berlin: Inter-University Centre at the Institute for Eastern European Studies, Free University of Berlin, 2009. Online at: http://www.efesonline.org/LIBRARY/2009/PEPPER%20IV%20Web%20Oct-09.pdf

The full reference list for this article is available from the IZA World of Labor website (http://wol.iza.org/articles/who-owns-the-robots-rules-the-world).;

 AuthorvolumeDate ValuetitletypejournaltitleUrldoinoteyear
2014 WhoOwnstheRobotsRulestheWorldRichard B. FreemanWho Owns the Robots Rules the World10.15185/izawol.52014
AuthorRichard B. Freeman +
doi10.15185/izawol.5 +
titleWho Owns the Robots Rules the World +
year2014 +