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Technology, automation and employment: Will this time be different?

This essay series re-examines the history of technological advancement, the impact on jobs and industry, and the likely outcomes for Canada in the future.
Western societies have exhibited a continuing worry that automation, particularly automation associated with artificial intelligence, will lead to massive unemployment and the impoverishment of large segments of society. In different epochs, technological change has triggered concerns and social protests. Those concerns date back to the early stages of the industrial revolution and the use of coal-fired weaving machines to automate textile manufacturing, and they continue through to the present-day and adoption of computerized algorithms that “learn” how to automate tasks through the use of data-driven “machine learning.” In fact, the history of automation affirms that concerns about technological change causing widespread unemployment are misguided