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Robots Are Not The Problem

September 10, 2013

WASHINGTON (September 10, 2013) - "The robots are responsible" is a common refrain of an increasingly vocal group of neo-Luddites and is being used to explain America's persistent unemployment. According to this line of thinking, high productivity driven by increasingly powerful, IT-enabled machines is the cause of U.S. labor market problems, and accelerating technological change will only make those problems worse. However, this thesis is incorrect and ignores basic facts related to productivity and employment and also fails to acknowledge the positive impact technology has on job growth and income.

To assess the true role automation and productivity play in determining employment, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) has released the new report Are Robots Taking Our Jobs, or Making Them? It analyzes the "robots are killing our jobs" arguments, shows how they are constructed on faulty analysis, examines the extensive economic literature on the relationship between employment and productivity, and explains the logic of how higher productivity leads to more jobs.

"A wide number of academic studies have definitively shown that there is no relationship between higher productivity, through automation, and job levels or unemployment," notes Ben Miller, Economic Growth Policy Analyst at ITIF and lead author of the report. "In fact, the income-generating effects of new technologies have proven more powerful than the labor-displacing effects, with technological progress leading not only to higher output but also increased overall employment."

The authors argue that the neo-Luddite thesis is particularly damaging given the fact that numerous nations around the world are developing comprehensive technology and innovation strategies designed to enhance productivity, new business growth and international competitiveness. The U.S. risks falling further behind if we embrace the neo-Luddite fears. Instead, we need to embrace innovation and enact policies that promote productivity growth.

"Far from being doomed by an excess of technology, America is actually at risk of being held back by too little innovation and productivity growth," adds Robert Atkinson, President of ITIF and co-author of the report. "Instead of worrying about the robots taking our jobs we should be calling for more technology, automation and innovation-this is the only way we can keep pace with our global competitors and promote future economic and job growth."

Read the report.


The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute focusing on the intersection of technological innovation and public policy. Recognized by its peers in the think tank community as the global center of excellence for science and technology policy, ITIF’s mission is to formulate and promote policy solutions that accelerate innovation and boost productivity to spur growth, opportunity, and progress.

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