Bioethics Blogs

Automation, Robotics, and the Economy

The Joint Economic Committee — a congressional committee with members from both the Senate and the House of Representatives — invited me to testify in a hearing yesterday on “the transformative impact of robots and automation.” The other witnesses were Andrew McAfee, an M.I.T. professor and coauthor of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (his testimony is here) and Harry Holzer, a Georgetown economist who has written about the relationship between automation and the minimum wage (his testimony is here).

My written testimony appears below, slightly edited to include a couple things that arose during the hearing. Part of the written testimony is based on an essay I wrote a few years ago with Ari Schulman called “The Problem with ‘Friendly’ Artificial Intelligence.” Video of the entire hearing can be found here.

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Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Maloney, and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to participate in this important hearing on robotics and automation. These aspects of technology have already had widespread economic consequences, and in the years ahead they are likely to profoundly reshape our economic and social lives.

Today’s hearing is not the first time Congress has discussed these subjects. In fact, in October 1955, a subcommittee of this very committee held a hearing on automation and technological change.[1] That hearing went on for two weeks, with witnesses mostly drawn from industry and labor. It is remarkable how much of the public discussion about automation today echoes the ideas debated in that hearing.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.