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AI’s path to the present and the painful transitions along the way

Martha Garcia-Murillo (School of Information Studies, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, USA)
Ian MacInnes (School of Information Studies, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, USA)

Digital Policy, Regulation and Governance

ISSN: 2398-5038

Article publication date: 20 May 2019

Issue publication date: 17 July 2019




Artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to have a significant impact on work. It will enhance, but also displace, some professions. This paper aims to look retrospectively at the impact that previous revolutionary computing technologies have had and the institutional values that have shaped the way workers were affected.


This historical investigation relies on academic, government and trade publications of earlier periods in the development of computer technology. The analysis relies on the literature on institutional economics to understand societal outcomes. Within this framework, this paper explores both the ceremonial values associated with tradition and the instrumental values associated with the pursuit of knowledge.


The AI revolution, like previous technological evolutions, will go through stages. Initial implementations will suffer from failures that will, however, generate employment; but, as the technology improves, the AI revolution is likely to enhance productivity but displace workers. Up to this point, the US Government has not been able to respond adequately to the challenge. This paper attributes this to the ceremonial values that public officials and society entertain about personal responsibility and small government.

Practical implications

Given the differences in values, this study recommends fending off negative effects though education but also experimenting with other solutions at the local level.


Through the lens of history, this study provides a glimpse of what may happen. It also provides a framework that helps understand the outcomes of earlier technological revolutions.



Garcia-Murillo, M. and MacInnes, I. (2019), "AI’s path to the present and the painful transitions along the way", Digital Policy, Regulation and Governance, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 305-321.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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