For those who don't know, Gartner is a leading technology research and consulting company that specializes in analyzing and forecasting where technology is going and what the likely repercussions will be.
As reported by Computerworld, they see trouble ahead.
Their basic take—that technology will continue to replace jobs—isn't exactly new, but they have some specific predictions, overleaf…
Gartner notes that since the Industrial Revolution, technological advances have worked to increase employment, both in the number of jobs and the value of those jobs. But, they say, this time it's different: the digital revolution is not following the traditional path.
Things like like 3D printing, machine learning and voice recognition are powerful trends that will reduce the need for workers, and, as a consequence, bring social unrest. In fact, they predict new social unrest movements, similar to Occupy Wall Street, emerging again by 2014.
One attendee who agreed with the prediction that digitization and automation will cost jobs was Tom Seitzberg, director of international IT operations for Genomic Health in San Francisco.
"Ultimately, every society lives from the backbone from a strong middle class," said Seitzberg. "If you get just a top level, a small amount of very rich people and a very large piece of very poor people, it leads to social unrest."
Almost a year ago, Paul Krugman blogged about what he called "capital-biased technological progress": the fact that the rich people who own the new machines are grabbing an increasing share of society's wealth, while labor's share declines. In several posts, starting with this one
, he explains the phenomenon and discusses policy implications. The series is well worth reading. (Krugman seemed to be quite energized by the subject and promised to write more about it, but so far hasn't that I'm aware of.)
The end result of capital-biased technology, of course, is ever-greater inequality in society, and the corrosive effects that follow from it.
Which leads to what I think is the most critical point. You can argue that it isn't "fair" that the rich should grab so much of our wealth, but IMO you don't need to (and try getting two people to agree on what's "fair"). The fact is that excessive inequality is simply bad for everybody, and on that basis alone society has both the right and the duty to do something about it.
And to hell with fairness.