But what do we do about the decoupling of productivity and employment? If technology creates a class of permanently underemployed people, the social effects could be awful, and a lot of people are very worried about it.
The first step is to diagnose it correctly—to understand why the economy is changing and why people aren’t doing as well as they used to. We also need to think about inventing new kinds of organizations that work in this new culture. There are a few examples, most of them relatively small, like oDesk or Etsy or Foldit. Foldit is a game you can play on the Web. Humans have very good visual cortexes and are able to identify ways that proteins fold that computers can’t. One of the things you need to do in biomedicine is understand how a particular sequence of amino acids codes for a particular protein shape, and it turns out that computers can’t do that—but humans are very good. It’s a more practical version of humans and computers playing chess together to beat other computers.
We need to unleash entrepreneurs to find more places where humans have capabilities that machines don’t have, and where the two of them working together can create more value than just the machines alone could—what we call racing with the machine. Just as they did a century ago when people were no longer needed on the farm, people came up with whole new industries. We’re not doing that as well as we could be and have to try to jump-start that.