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Alex Verkhivker: The “Internet of Things” Won’t Eat Your Job

A popular sport evolving over dinner tables across the United States is the discussion of whether tech is going to kill or create jobs. Behind the boom in tech is the discussion of "The Internet of Things." The Internet of Things (IoT) is an all – encompassing term depicting the changing landscape of how data is leveraged by big industry.

No longer will the Internet be simply a network of connected PCs that lets these computers communicate with just one another. The IoT takes advantage of the enormous amount of live information on the web that goes beyond machine–to–machine (M2M) communications. Things, in the IoT, can refer to heart monitoring implants, cars with built-in sensors or coffee machines that can allow, for example, your heating system to talk with your car so that the heating system knows you're on your way home and can thus warm the house – presumably to the temperature the heating system has learned you like.

In the innovation economy, the IoT is the race of the human against the machine. My job and your job are replaced by machines. Cost is lowered and efficiency is raised, say the prominent labor economists of the day. What's important not to forget, however, is that people are the ones who build machines. Also equally important to remember is that society is productive from people doing things together, rather than machines doing things in isolation.

Machines can no doubt increase efficiency. However, machines should be thought of as raising the value of people rather than eliminating jobs. For one, machines cannot possibly replace humans in doing everything of value, including eradicating disease, ameliorating poverty or helping to reduce climate change. Machines should (and will) help elevate the power of people to produce goods and services for the betterment of mankind.

Nevertheless, today there is a focus on task-specific skills and domain expertise for jobs. One can hardly imagine a world where a job does not have a descriptive label such as "programmer" or "dishwasher." If our self–interest is to create a task–centered economy with machines doing the work of humans, then we get stuck in a Catch–22: our self–interest is actually not in our self–interest.

But the current tech revolution does not have to be thought of in terms of disruption. Change almost always provides new opportunities for humans to learn new things from each other, as well as to rethink tired processes in collaboration. The hope is that the tech revolution will improve the way we work, not disrupt or replace our labor altogether. We need to think about the economy as a people-centered rather than task-centered economy where machines are used to raise the value of people.

Automation of the world around us has been a net positive. Since the Industrial Revolution, man's standard of living has increased considerably, with longer life expectancies, clean air and water, and central heating and cooling. Getting the "Things" of today to pick up some automation and tailor their tasks to our desires leaves us with more time to do the things we like, such as spending time with loved ones or engaging in recreational activities. We might even find more interesting jobs.

Source: Acquity Group (Accenture Interactive). More than two thirds of consumers plan to buy connected technology for their homes by 2019, and nearly half say the same for wearable technology. Smart thermostats are expected to have 43% adoption in the next five years.

Alex Verkhivker is a contributor to e21.

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Posted: February 24, 2015 Tuesday 07:43 AM