Economics & Finance

The Technology Trap: Capital, Labor, and Power in the Age of Automation

"Made me look at the industrial revolution, invention, sleeping beauties, contexts and the forces that shape our societies differently."—David Byrne, New York Times Book Review

How the history of technological revolutions can help us better understand economic and political polarization in the age of automation


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Jun 18, 2019
Economics & Finance
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From the Industrial Revolution to the age of artificial intelligence, The Technology Trap takes a sweeping look at the history of technological progress and how it has radically shifted the distribution of economic and political power among society’s members. As Carl Benedikt Frey shows, the Industrial Revolution created unprecedented wealth and prosperity over the long run, but the immediate consequences of mechanization were devastating for large swaths of the population. Middle-income jobs withered, wages stagnated, the labor share of income fell, profits surged, and economic inequality skyrocketed. These trends, Frey documents, broadly mirror those in our current age of automation, which began with the Computer Revolution.

Just as the Industrial Revolution eventually brought about extraordinary benefits for society, artificial intelligence systems have the potential to do the same. But Frey argues that this depends on how the short term is managed. In the nineteenth century, workers violently expressed their concerns over machines taking their jobs. The Luddite uprisings joined a long wave of machinery riots that swept across Europe and China. Today’s despairing middle class has not resorted to physical force, but their frustration has led to rising populism and the increasing fragmentation of society. As middle-class jobs continue to come under pressure, there’s no assurance that positive attitudes to technology will persist.

The Industrial Revolution was a defining moment in history, but few grasped its enormous consequences at the time. The Technology Trap demonstrates that in the midst of another technological revolution, the lessons of the past can help us to more effectively face the present.

Awards and Recognition

  • Co-Winner of the Silver Medal in Business Technology, Axiom Business Book Awards
  • One of the Financial Times' Summer Books of 2019: Business
  • One of the Financial Times' Best Books of 2019: Technology
  • 12 must-read books for 2019 as recommended by Tech Crunch's Extra Crunch readers
  • One of Five Books' Best Economics Books of 2019
  • University of Chicago 2019 Recommended Reading
  • One of Handelsblatt's Best Technology Books of 2019
  • One of Época Negócios's Best Books of 2019
  • A Choice Outstanding Academic Title of the Year
  • A Project Syndicate Best Read in 2019
  • A Financial Times Best Book of the Year
  • Winner of the Richard A. Lester Prize for the Outstanding Book in Industrial Relations and Labor Economics, Industrial Relations Section of Princeton University