Will the machines eventually monopolize the workplace? Ask economists, and you won’t get the rational analysis that traditional economic theory insists upon. Instead, you’ll get opinions that gravitate toward competing ideologies, reflecting individual cognitive, emotional, and political biases.
That’s certainly been the experience of Martin Ford — entrepreneur, TED talker, and New York Times bestselling author of Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future:
“In the field of economics the opinions all too often break cleanly along predefined political lines. Knowing the ideological predisposition of a particular economist is often a better predictor of what that individual is likely to say than anything contained in the data under examination. In other words, if you’re waiting for the economists to deliver some sort of definitive verdict on the impact that advancing technology is having on the economy, you may have a very long wait.”
“Recent research suggests that our brains may be pre-wired for dichotomized thinking. That’s a fancy name for thinking and perceiving in terms of two – and only two – opposing possibilities.
“These research findings might help explain how and why the public discourse of our culture has become so polarized and rancorous, and how we might be able to replace it with a more intelligent conversation.
“[O]ur brains can keep tabs on two tasks at a time, by sending each one to a different side of the brain. Apparently, we toggle back and forth, with one task being primary and the other on standby.
“Add a third task, however, and one of the others has to drop off the to-do list.
“Scans of brain activity during this task switching have led to the hypothesis that the brain actually likes handling things in pairs. Indeed, the brain itself is subdivided into two distinct half-brains, or hemispheres.
“Curiously, part of our cranial craving for two-ness might be related to our own physiology: the human body is bilaterally symmetrical. Draw an imaginary center line down through the front of a person and you see a lot of parts (not all, of course), that come in pairs: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, matching teeth on left and right sides, two shoulders, two arms, two hands, two nipples, two legs, two knees, and two feet. Inside you’ll find two of some things and one of others.
“Some researchers are now extending this reasoning to suggest that the brain has a built-in tendency, when confronted by complex propositions, to selfishly reduce the set of choices to just two. Apparently it doesn’t like to work hard.
“Considering how quickly we make our choices and set our opinions, it’s unlikely that all of the options will even be identified, never mind carefully considered.
On the one hand this, on the other hand that, we like to say. Lawyers perfect the art. Politics and the press /thrive on dichotomy:
“Again, our common language encodes the effect of this anatomical self reference. “On the one hand, there is X. But on the other hand, we have Y.” Many people describe political views as being either “left” or “right.”
“The popular press routinely constructs “news” stories around conflicts and differences between pairs of opposing people, factions, and ideologies. Bipolar conflict is the very essence of most of the news.”
So, are robots and artificially intelligence going to trash the working world, or not?
Hmmm, there might be another option — several, actually. Dr. Albrecht urges us to find them:
“Seek the ‘third hand’ – and any other ‘hands’ you can discover. Ask yourself, and others, ‘Are there other options to be considered?'”
We’ll consider some third hand perspectives about the rise of the robots in the coming weeks.
 Martin Ford is also the consulting expert for Societe Generale’s new “Rise of the Robots” investment index, which focuses on companies that are “significant participants in the artificial intelligence and robotics revolution.”
 According to his website, Karl Albrecht is “is an executive management consultant, futurist, lecturer, and author of more than 20 books on professional achievement, organizational performance, and business strategy. He is also a leading authority on cognitive styles and the development of advanced thinking skills. The Mensa Society honored him with its lifetime achievement award, for significant contributions by a member to the understanding of intelligence. Originally a physicist, and having served as a military intelligence officer and business executive, he now consults, lectures, and writes about whatever he thinks would be fun.”