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February 06, 2014

Technology's Impact on People's Lives Mixed

by George Putic

Technology is permeating everyday life like never before.  Computers, smartphones, 3D printers, new medical devices, sophisticated software, electric cars are now accessible, not only to residents of industrialized nations but to almost everybody else. Will these rapid changes make people’s lives overall better or worse?  

Internet giant Google says it is in the final stages of the development of autonomous vehicles.

Technology giant IBM is developing a computer called Watson, capable not only of processing raw data but of learning.

Retail firm Amazon has already automated several of its giant warehouses and is making plans to deliver packages with flying drones.

As the machines get better in what they can do and how they think, what effect will it have on the lives of us humans?  

Andrew McAfee, co-author of ‘The Second Machine Age’, says this technological progress will have two main economic consequences.

First, new possibilities:

“More options, higher quality, more variety, lower prices, not just for consumer goods but for health care, for entertainment, for communication, for food, for leisure, for everything that we want to do with our lives," said McAfee.

McAfee admits that the other major consequence will be much less positive.  In the not-too-distant-future, intelligent machines may start replacing people in more types of jobs, displacing many less-skilled workers.

“Technology tends to favor some kinds of winners and they are pulling ahead and leaving a lot of people behind. So we see inequality in income, inequality in wealth, inequality in opportunity, in mobility, and these are very serious challenges that we have to confront," he said.

McAfee says people who feel threatened by these challenges should take advantage of new opportunities technology provides, such as connectivity and accessibility to quality education.

“The educational resources available via the Internet, via technology, these days are absolutely fantastic. We have some of the best teachers in the world giving their courses away for free for anybody who wants to take them. This is a very positive development," he said.

Besides individual initiative, McAfee says governments could help the transition by creating not just new training programs, but an environment receptive to entrepreneurship, innovation and the creation of new opportunities.