The vast vacant lot along the Monongahela
River has been a scar from Pittsburgh’s industrial past for decades. It
was once the site of the Jones and Laughlin steelworks, one of the
largest such facilities in the city back when steel was the dominant
Despite advances in AI and robotics,
productivity is sluggish, and fewer people are enjoying the benefits. To
boost growth, especially as workforce growth slows, we will need more
AI, and we’ll need to learn how to deploy it better.
Inequality is up as growth
Automation and robots have certainly
wiped out many jobs over the last few decades, especially in
manufacturing. In one of the first attempts to quantify the impact of
industrial robots, research by Daron Acemoglu at MIT and his colleagues,
based on data from 1990 to 2007, found that for every robot on the
factory floor, some six jobs are lost. That means as many as 670,000
jobs for the years that they looked at, and as many as 1.5 million jobs
at 2016 levels of robot usage in the US.
From rust belt to robot belt: Turning AI into jobs in the US
A person standing on the flat roof of a
building in the Lawrenceville neighborhood can get a glimpse of the
future. On the first floor is a large garage housing several of Aurora’s
self-driving cars. Off in some weedy fields is a Caterpillar backhoe
belonging to the company’s research outpost for autonomous machines.
Beyond that is a fenced-in testing area
next to yet another former steel facility—this one housing Carnegie
Robotics, which is working on a bomb-clearing robot for the Army. In the
background is the National Robotics Center, another imposing building
and home—until it moves into Mill 19—of the Advanced Robotics for
It’s an impressive scene highlighting
signs, if you know where to look, of some of the world’s leading
research into robotics and automation. But it is also almost deadly
quiet. There are a few cars in the parking lots—those of the engineers
and programmers involved in the various robotic ventures, and probably
some visitors. Beyond that, there are no signs of workers
According to a recent poll, more than
half of Pittsburgh residents would strongly support Amazon’s building
its second headquarters there. That’s far more than in many cities on
Amazon’s shortlist—in Austin and Boston only around a third of the
population would welcome the move.
But despite all this activity,
Pittsburgh’s economy is struggling by many measures. Though the city’s
population is no longer hemorrhaging away—between 1970 and 1980 it fell
by roughly a fifth—it isn’t growing, either, and is aging quickly. During the last half-decade, almost 70,000
people aged 35 to 54 have left the region.
In the US, demand for low-paying work in
places like warehouses and restaurants is growing; so is demand for
well-paying work in occupations requiring lots of technical skills, such
as programming. At the same time, many
traditionally middle-class jobs in areas like manufacturing and data
processing are shriveling.
This has drawn billions of dollars from
Silicon Valley and elsewhere, a welcome development in a city whose
economy has been moribund for decades. And the effects are visible.
Self-driving cars out for a test ride are a common sight, as are lines
outside the trendy restaurants in what civic boosters call “Robotics
That criticism resonates in a place that
prides itself as a working-class city with strong unions and a rich
history of progressive politics. Mayor William Peduto helped attract
Uber to the city, but he has since soured on the San Francisco–based
Princeton economist Anne Case and her
coauthor Angus Deaton have identified what’s likely a related trend.
They found that mortality is rising among middle-aged white people in
the US with a high school diploma or less.
The gem of the redevelopment effort is
Mill 19, the former coke works. A structure more than a quarter-mile
long, sitting amid the empty fields, it has been stripped clean to a
three-story metal skeleton. Crews of workers are clearing away remaining
debris and preparing the building for its reincarnation. By next spring,
if all goes according to plan, its first occupant will move in: the
Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute.
There is no sillier—or more
disingenuous—debate in the tech community than the one over whether
robots and AI will destroy jobs or, conversely, create a great abundance
of new ones. In fact, the outcome depends on various economic factors.
And how it will play out as the pace of AI intensifies, no one
The culprits: high rates of suicide, drug
addiction, and alcoholism, which Case and Deaton call “diseases of
despair” because they don’t seem related to poverty per se, but rather
to disappointment; in a reversal of expectations, people are realizing
they won’t be better off than their parents.
While many longtime residents complain of
skyrocketing home prices near the tech firms’ headquarters and test
facilities, they’ll also tell you these are the best days the city has
seen in their lifetimes.
Perhaps we just need to be patient;
technology advances have always increased incomes, which then increased
demand for goods and services, which then led to more jobs.
Most of the massive structures are long
gone, leaving behind empty fields pocked with occasional remnants of
steelmaking and a few odd buildings. It all stares down the river at
It’s hardly surprising: Amazon is
pledging 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment, which would be
transformative for Pittsburgh. It’s rumored that the city is tempting
the company with the site along the Monongahela River that includes Mill
But if Amazon picks Pittsburgh, that’s
likely to exacerbate the anxiety over how to match residents with new
high-tech jobs. “There is nowhere near enough people in the city and the
region with the technical skills,” says CMU’s Moore. “We’re great in
terms of the rare genius leaders, but [Pittsburgh] really needs to
skill up the local population to take part in this.”
This makes Pittsburgh not only a
microcosm of the US industrial heartland but a test case for the
question facing every city and country with access to new digital
technologies: Can AI, advanced robotics, self-driving cars, and other
recent breakthroughs spread prosperity to the population at large, or
will they just concentrate the wealth among entrepreneurs, investors,
and some highly skilled tech workers?
Gauging the net gain or loss of jobs due
to robotics and AI is a tricky business. But it’s clear that the kinds
of jobs in demand are changing as the need for manual labor declines and
that for digital and human skills soars.
“The Silicon Valley model doesn’t [put]
people in the equation. It is based on what return will be derived for
VCs,” he said in a recent interview at city hall with MIT Technology
Review. “In places like Detroit and Pittsburgh, when we look at the
future of work, we want to know what the future of the worker
Even more uncertain is how many new jobs
will be created. Many technologists, especially roboticists, assert that
advances will lead to a wealth of new kinds of work. So far, though,
that hasn’t happened, and few of the breakthroughs have reached the
largest sectors of the US economy, such as health care.
This movie has, of course, played out
before. In 1900, about 40 percent of US workers were on farms; today
fewer than 2 percent are. In 1950, about 24 percent of the jobs were in
manufacturing; today around 9 percent are. Similar shifts are occurring
in other developed countries. But today’s changes are happening faster
and more broadly than before, leaving little time for people to
Next to the sprawling site is one of
Pittsburgh’s poorer neighborhoods, Hazelwood, where a house can go for
less than $50,000. As with many of the towns that stretch south along
the river toward West Virginia, like McKeesport and Duquesne, the
economic reasons for its existence—steel and coal—are a fading
Lawrenceville, five miles from Hazelwood,
has become a center for US development of self-driving cars. Uber
Advanced Technologies occupies a handful of industrial buildings;
self-driving startups Argo AI and Aurora Innovation are nearby. Even
Caterpillar has set up shop, working on autonomous backhoes and other
heavy machines that could one day operate themselves.
But Laura Tyson, a top economic advisor
to President Bill Clinton and a professor at the University of
California, Berkeley, asks the question that is on everyone’s mind: What
if, this time around, the goods and services that people want just don’t
require much human labor to produce? “This is the first time that
technology, we think, could on net reduce the demand for human workers,”
Automation might be partly to blame for
these social problems. But if economists like Acemoglu are right, the
key to creating more good jobs is not fewer of these advances but better
versions of them that are deployed faster throughout the economy.
“The naïve view among macroeconomists for
several decades has been that technology will always create jobs,” says
Acemoglu. “The alarmists’ is that this time is different and it will
destroy jobs.” Though in the past the economic benefits from new
technologies have always been enough to create more jobs than were lost,
he says, “lately, for a variety of reasons, there has been a much more
job-destroying face to technology.”
Automation is changing work
The McKinsey Global Institute estimates
that about 50 percent of tasks done in our economy could be automated.
But such statistics are often misinterpreted. The 50 percent merely
describes the “technical feasibility” of what can be automated with
existing and emerging technologies, says James Manyika, the institute’s
chairman. The number of actual jobs lost will depend on the costs and
benefits of replacing people with machines.
These days the old steel site, called
Hazelwood Green by its developers, is coming back to life. At one edge,
fenced off from prying eyes, is a test area for Uber’s self-driving
cars. A new road, still closed to the public, traverses the 178 acres of
the site, complete with parking signs, fire hydrants, a paved bike path,
and a sidewalk. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture it bustling
with visitors to the planned park along the riverfront.
To prosper, says Scott Andes at the
National League of Cities, Pittsburgh “can’t just be a producer of
brilliant talent and ideas that then don’t turn into job generation.” He
adds, “Pittsburgh is a great case study for the 21st-century economy,
because it is beginning to leverage research strengths into economic
The challenge facing the city and the
rest of the country, though, is not only to include more people in the
high-tech workforce but to expand the supply of those well-paying jobs.
Advanced robotics can modernize the factories in a city like Pittsburgh
and help make manufacturing more competitive.
And not far from the city and its elite
universities, in areas where the main hope for prosperity lies in coal
and natural gas from fracking rather than self-driving cars,
well-paying jobs are scarce and towns are being devastated by opioid
But the debate about how many jobs are
gained or lost obscures a much more important point. The location of
jobs and the kind of work they involve are changing, and that’s what’s
causing real pain to people and to local economies.
That, in essence, is what Pittsburgh’s
attempt at reinventing itself is about. So far the results are mixed.
“The transformation of the city by new, young people working in AI and
robotics has been spectacular,” says Andrew Moore, dean of computer
science at CMU. “But it has been more of an approach of gentrification
rather than an inclusion of the community.”
原标题：美国老工业基地的复兴 | 麻省理工技术评论
But the factory jobs lost through the
years aren’t coming back. As a country, we’re struggling to imagine how
to build an economy with plenty of good jobs around AI and
Part of what he’s describing is the
so-called productivity paradox: while big data, automation, and AI
should in theory be making businesses more productive, boosting the
economy and creating more jobs to offset the ones being lost, this
hasn’t happened. Some economists think it’s just a matter of time—though
it could take many years.
The symbolism of robots moving into a
former steelworks is lost on few people in the city. Pittsburgh is
reinventing itself, using the advances in automation, robots, and
artificial intelligence coming out of its schools—particularly Carnegie
Mellon University (CMU)—to try to create a high-tech economy.
Many are simply giving up on finding a
decent job. Labor-force participation—basically, the proportion of
people working or seeking work—is showing a troubling drop, especially
for men aged 25 to 54.
These trends have contributed to record
levels of income inequality. “There is not a lot of disagreement that
technology is changing the skills and occupations in demand,” says
Tyson. “And that will continue to increase income inequality.”
Melissa Kearney and Katharine Abraham,
economists at the University of Maryland, have looked at why. They think
there may be several causes, but they say robots and automation are a
critical one. Many people without a college degree simply think the
prospects of finding a well-paying job are too slim to make it worth