By winter time in 1930, the Great Depression was worldwide. Economic improvement was nowhere in sight. In England, John Maynard Keynes wrote an optimistic essay, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren as part of a larger effort to stave off despair. Yet Keynes was worried; he was concerned about the present, near term and even the post-depression future. Keynes described a new condition, “technological unemployment". In 1930, his readers might not have heard of the problem—nor did they hear much about it, not even in the years to come.
Nowadays, the majority of economists confidently wave such worries away. By raising productivity, they argue, any automation which economizes on the use of labour will increase incomes. That will generate demand for new products and services, which will in turn create new jobs for displaced workers. Industrialization did not end up eliminating the need for human workers. On the contrary, it created employment opportunities sufficient for the 20th century’s exploding population. Yet now, some fear that a new era of automation enabled by ever more powerful and capable computers could work out differently.