Entertainment Weekly reported last month on the bankruptcy of the special effects company Rhythm and Hues and the troubled industry. I remarked five years ago that the special effects industry lost its ability to surprise us. Without the ability to innovate, and with most of the effects handled in software, the need for specialized talent and companies disappears.
We've always could take comfort that computation and its related efficiencies have led to more, often safer and higher paying jobs. But is that still true? The stock market has hit historic highs but the unemployment rate remains high. Are companies who pared down during the last recession realizing they don't need to hire as the economy comes back?
Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee in their 2012 book Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, argue that computer technology has truly gotten us to the point where we need fewer people to perform the task at the middle of the economy. The world needs computer scientists and welders, but far less people doing mid-level professional work. On the other side, Henrik Christensen, a Georgia Tech roboticist, argues that technology will continue to produce far more jobs than it displaces.
My take: It's just too early to tell. The economy could completely turn around and near full employment. Or we can see a permanent loss in returning jobs. History doesn't seem like a good guide here.
There are so many issues tied to the current state of employment and this sense of technological efficiency replacing jobs: Is college really worth the cost? Should an undergraduate student major in a STEM field or follow their passion if it lies elsewhere? Do we need MOOCs to improve access to quality education and/or keep down education costs? Are academics the next group to meet the efficiency maker?
My oldest daughter starts college next year and I don't even know what advice to give her.