May 12 2015 12:00pm to May 12 2015 12:00pm

Economic Inequality and Technology: How Knowledge Sharing Helps

with Jim Bessen in conversation with Karim Lakhani

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Today we feel the impact of technology everywhere except in our paychecks. In the past, technological advancements dramatically increased wages, but during the last three decades, the median wage has remained stagnant. Machines have taken over much of the work of humans, destroying old jobs while increasing profits for business owners. The threat of ever-widening economic inequality looms, but in his new book, Learning by Doing: The Real Connection Between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth, James Bessen argues that it is not inevitable. Workers can benefit by acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary to implement rapidly evolving technologies. Sharing knowledge is an important part of that process, including via open standards and employee job-hopping. At this event, Bessen will have a conversation with Berkman Faculty Associate Karim Lakhani about knowledge sharing, past and present, about government policies that discourage sharing, and about the broader issue of slow wage growth.

About Jim

James Bessen studies the economics of innovation and patents. He has also been a successful innovator and CEO of a software company. Currently, Mr. Bessen is Lecturer in Law at the Boston University School of Law.

Bessen has done research on whether patents promote innovation, why innovators share new knowledge, and how technology affected worker skills historically. His research first documented the large economic damage caused by patent trolls. His work on software patents with Eric Maskin (Nobel Laureate in Economics) and Robert Hunt has influenced policymakers in the US, Europe, and Australia. With Michael J. Meurer, Bessen wrote Patent Failure (Princeton 2008), highlighting the problems caused by poorly defined property rights. His new book, Learning by Doing: The Real Connection Between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth (Yale 2015), looks at history to understand how new technologies affect wages and skills today. Bessen’s work has been widely cited in the press as well as by the White House, the U.S. Supreme Court, judges at the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and the Federal Trade Commission.

In 1983, Bessen developed the first commercially successful “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” PC publishing program, founding a company that delivered PC-based publishing systems to high-end commercial publishers. Intergraph Corporation acquired the company in 1993.

About Karim

Karim R. Lakhani is an Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and the Principal Investigator of the Crowd Innovation Lab and NASA Tournament Lab at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science. He specializes in the management of technological innovation in firms and communities. His research is on distributed innovation systems and the movement of innovative activity to the edges of organizations and into communities. He has extensively studied the emergence of open source software communities and their unique innovation and product development strategies. He has also investigated how critical knowledge from outside of the organization can be accessed through innovation contests. Currently Professor Lakhani is investigating incentives and behavior in contests and the mechanisms behind scientific team formation through field experiments on the TopCoder platform and the Harvard Medical School.

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Last updated date

June 2, 2015