“The only way we are going to maintain manufacturing in the U.S. is if we have higher productivity.?
?Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
and Senior Advisor for Science, Technology and Innovation for the National Economic Council
Everyone is all about productivity these days. From the White House to your house. And well we should, because everything hangs in the balance.
But have you looked lately at robots and the mark they’re making on the very same topic of productivity.
I did. I wrote the companion research report for this webcast. After researching and writing that report, I came away amazed at what’s happening. Folks, this is the start of something very big. A good big!
Plus a Companion Research Report That Digs Even Deeper
Join us for Industrial Automation and the “New” Productivity
Thursday, March 24 at 2PM EST
Robotics development, and
Investing in robotics
Even people who keep a close eye on productivity for a living?like Northwestern University economist Robert Gordon?can miss the subtleties of technology in its ?early reap stage? and be dubious about any productivity liftoff any time soon.
Reading Gordon?s thoughts in his new book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth (2016), are depressing; he seems to feel that the best that technology can offer to accelerate growth has passed by already. That it?s behind us by some 40 years. Yikes! He really likes 1930 to 1970. We all do, but technology just didn?t stop there, did it?
In a recent Quartz interview, After 150 years, the American productivity miracle is over, he seems so very disappointed with it all?especially since 2005 when productivity plummeted?saying to the interviewer: ?I?m at war with the techno-optimists. They think we?re on the verge of some great acceleration of productivity. I think we?re going to see much the same kind of productivity numbers that we?ve seen over the last 40 years.?
Labor productivity growth in the US has only been 1.4 percent since 1970. ?And I?m predicting a slight slowdown in that,? he said. A rate that Cowen cites as doubling income in an unacceptably long 70 years!
Quartz piled on with: ?Productivity growth declined  to 0.7%, from 0.8% the year before.?
Gordon has had a change of heart on productivity since 2004, Cowen points out in his review of Gordon?s book.
Maybe caught up in the euphoria of the ?dot.com? boom, Gordon penned a 2003 Brookings essay titled Exploding Productivity Growth. He ?predicted that productivity in the United States would grow by 2.2 to 2.8 percent for the next two decades, most likely averaging 2.5 percent a year; he even suggested that a three percent rate was possible.?
Wow, what the Great Recession can do to optimism.
Tyler Cowen?s book, The Great Stagnation, on the other hand, is much more sanguine about humanity?s bouts with technology, even given a book title with the word ?stagnation? in it.
?We choose to go to the moon in this decade
and do the other things, not because they are easy,
but because they are hard.? JFK
He offers up more of it with his review of Gordon?s book. ?Given that economic growth and technological progress are uneven, there may well be bumps on the road when it comes to using computers to significantly improve human well-being.
?Surveying the array of human talent in Silicon Valley, the advances that have taken place to date, and the possible potential uses for new items such as smartphones, it is difficult to accept Gordon?s assertion that information technology has run its course. It seems much more likely that significant growth still lies ahead.
?Gordon?s book serves as a powerful reminder that the U.S. economy really has gone through a protracted slowdown and that this decline has been caused by the stagnation in technological progress.
?But perhaps the book?s greatest contribution to the debate over the world?s economic future is that it unintentionally demonstrates the weakness of the case for pessimism.?
We have gotten so hooked on technology that even when it temporarily seems to be failing us, we get impatient for our tech fix. The iPhone 4 is still a remarkably fine device (introduced in 2010); it sold (without a contract from a Telco carrier) for $599. Today on eBay they go for fifty bucks.
Intelligent arms and hands still reach for the fruit, albeit higher up on the tree, and still manipulate innovations out of them. Although, as would be expected of the higher fruit, innovation is getting more difficult and complex to pull off, and as such, a bit more difficult to work with.
However, technological progress hasn?t gone away and won?t, it just gets a bit harder to do.
What was it that President Kennedy said about hard problems? ?We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.?
There are great young minds in robotics labs around the world all of whom are doing hard things to push the technology forward. They have succeeded grandly, and the early results of that work in global productivity are more than evident in Robots at Work. And it?s all just beginning.
Take heart, Mr. Gordon.
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