Innovation and Opportunity: Institutionalizing a Moral Economy of New Technology

Authors: Nichola Lowe*, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
Topics: Economic Geography, Regional Geography, United States
Keywords: technology, innovation, economic inclusion, jobs
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Maryland B, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Disruptive technologies are on a collision course with America’s blue-collar workforce. Whether the focus is autonomous vehicles, robotics or other applications in artificial intelligence, there is growing concern of widespread job displacement, with some alarming estimates putting close to 50 percent of total US workforce in peril. A number of interesting solutions have been circulating of late, ranging from extensive retraining to stronger social safety nets, including the ever-popular idea proposed by Silicon Valley technologists of a basic guaranteed income or its close cousin, the ‘robot tax.’ But while these proposals might look quite different, they actually share a troubling assumption that technological progress that destroys jobs and disrupts livelihoods is inevitable. This paper outlines an alternative, more hopeful option—one in which blue-collar, frontline workers are central to technological decision-making and implementation and where their participation, experience and expertise is recognized as critically valuable for sustained industry innovation and upgrading. Rather than being pushed aside or further marginalized, these innovative solutions are inclusive of the blue-collar workforce and seek to extend similar opportunities to others that are in an especially vulnerable economic position. More than a utopian vision, this result is being achieved today through grassroots efforts by progressive urban coalitions, forward-thinking labor unions and pioneering academic research institutions. The goal of this paper is to elevate the visibility of those localized experiments, yet also inspire coordinated institutional and political action from which to build a stronger moral economy of new technology.

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