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The Promethean Myth

Wednesday, Feb 14, 2018
by Humanitarian Institute and Nik Dawson

AI 2

Special series: The Perils of Progress. Full white paper here. Author: Nik Dawson

Are you and your organisation prepared to respond to the tech revolution? Learn more.


The awakening of the Industrial Revolution evoked fears of mass-unemployment through mechanical automation.

People worried about the obsolescence of humanity and the Luddites screamed about the unravelling of social order.

This response has been a constant throughout history. It goes as far back to Greek Mythology with the ‘Promethean Myth’: Man acquires fire from the Gods; fire becomes the source of Man’s pain and suffering.

We hear variations of the same narrative today: humans build and deploy robots; robots take our jobs and our purpose.

Yet, the fears of the Promethean Myth have been consistently unfounded. To take the position that ‘this time is different’ is a complete abnegation of economic history.

Of course new jobs will be created. Ideas, industries, and fields will be conceived that we haven’t even imagined. The economic process of ‘Creative Destruction’ will upend markets, replacing jobs from the ‘old’ economy and ushering in the ‘new’.

A 2011 study by McKinsey found that the Internet had destroyed 500,000 jobs in France in the previous 15 years. However, over the same period, the Internet had created 1.2 million jobs That’s a net employment addition of 700,000 and a rate of 2.4 jobs created for every job destroyed.

This has been a constant occurrence across generations.

We’ve seen technology over the past 144 years create more jobs than it’s destroyed. And it continues to do so, with the net rate of job creation increasing over the past two decades. This isn’t wishful thinking or wilful ignorance; it’s pragmatic reasoning centred around the history and potential of human creativity.

So what’s all the fuss about?

It’s all about skills

If we project that the trend of ‘job replacement’ by new technologies will continue, then the next step is to consider what types of jobs will be demanded.

This is where we begin to approach unfamiliar territory.


Workshop overview

Our world is being transformed by two big forces: the technological revolution and the rise in inequality.

Are they linked? There’s good reason to believe they are.

Technological advances are already profoundly impacting the way we live and work. The hype of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is enthralling the public. Evoking hopes of productivity and fears of inequality - arguably the most common concern raised about emerging tech.

Without a knowledgeable and mobilised social sector, technology and the rising demand for high skilled labour will leave many people behind.

Are you and your organisation prepared to respond?

This workshop expands your insights and skills in understanding the trends, implications and opportunities of emerging technology’s impact on inequality.

Be a part of something VERY special that empowers cross discipline leaders to collaborate and strategically respond to the opportunities and challenges of tech for society.

Limited tickets available. Register today.


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