In the past, technological change often stoked fears that new technological means displace workers, hence giving rise to what has been called technological unemployment (see Mokyr et al., 2015 for a comprehensive review of the literature). While such fears have not proven true for past technological advances in the 19th and 20th century as the creation of new jobs usually outran the labour-saving impact of the adoption of new technologies, fears have recently been growing again that technological advances in the field of automation and digitalisation may after all herald the “End of Work”, as has already been proposed by Rifkin (1995). The underlying notion is that automation and digitalisation are increasingly penetrating the domain of tasks that until recently used to be genuinely human such as reasoning, sensing and deciding. In a widely discussed book, Brynjolfsson and McAfee (2014) present numerous examples of what they call “The Second Machine Age” such as the driverless car, the largely autonomous smart factory, service robots or 3D printing. These technologies are driven by advances in computing power, robotics and artificial intelligence and ultimately redefine what type of human capabilities machines are able to do.
Hence, at least in the public debate, the prevalent perception seems to be that the substitutability of humans by machines reaches a new and unprecedented quality. Such fears have also been fuelled by a study conducted by Frey and Osborne (2013) that tries to estimate the susceptibility of employment to computerisation. In this widely cited paper, they classify occupations in the US with respect to the risk of being susceptible to automation by asking experts about the technological potential for automation in the near future.