We can always get jobs working at the local robot factory

The key quote from Slate’s recent “robots-will-take-our-jobs” article:

“Most economists aren’t taking these worries very seriously. The idea that computers might significantly disrupt human labor markets–and, thus, further weaken the global economy–so far remains on the fringes.”

And rightly so. Obviously predicting the future is a fool’s errand, and perhaps advances in AI and robotics will ultimately radically reduce the demand for human labor, but a recent article highlights how technological advances can just as easily increase labor demand: NPR reports on an oil-related boom in North Dakota that’s driven unemployment close to zero and brought thousands into the state. The cause of the boom is not high oil prices per se—it’s technological developments like fraking & horizontal drilling that make formerly non-viable deposits economical to extract.

Obviously technological can displace human laborers and have large effects on the composition of jobs and the returns to different skills, but history and economics both suggest that technology-driven fears about labor markets are overblown.