The United States and other developed countries are in the midst of a digital revolution that may be even more profound than the industrial revolutions of the past. Advances in robotics, cognitive computing and other digital technologies promise untold benefits in a world of leisure hard to imagine. But there is also a dark side to this technological change. It could lead to joblessness for most and extreme inequality, threatening economic health and political stability.
Tension over rising inequality and a lack of good-paying middle class jobs is growing in Silicon Valley and nearby San Francisco, the epicentre of computerisation and the information economy. In San Francisco, buses for Google, Facebook and other companies ferry high-paid tech workers to their jobs in Silicon Valley. This allows tens of thousands to live in the city, fuelling popular anger over gentrification and high housing prices that are pushing longtime residents out.
In San Franciso – as elsewhere in the US – the speed at which top wage earners are pulling away from everyone else is becoming a major issue. According to Martin Ford, author of the new book The Rise of the Robots , “what you see is a few people essentially hoovering up all the income and all the success and everyone else kind of struggling. And one of the implications of digital technologies and the Internet is that more and more of the economy is coming to look like this.”