Gone the way of the horse?

As I’ve noted recently, one of the biggest questions concerning automation/robots/artificial intelligence is whether it augments human labor or is a substitute. And one of the more interesting bits of analogy is the history of the horse. Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee asked provocatively: Will Humans Go the Way of Horses?
Remember, however, that horses still exist in the economy. According to one study by the Humane Society, there were 9.9 million horse in the United States in 2006. That is a sharp decline from the estimated 21.5 million in 1900. But it is not elimination. What happen was a transformation in the horses’ role from providing work energy to recreation. I anticipate that the same transformation will occur for human drivers. Driving a car will become recreation not transportation.
Will humans go the way of the horse? In terms of labor and work activity, probably. In terms of importance to the economy, probably not (at least as consumers). The issue confronting society is how to manage the transformation.
As Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee note the end of their article, “It’s time to start discussing what kind of society we should construct around a labor-light economy.”
Amen to that.

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