Posted by: coastcontact | April 13, 2016

Technological Unemployment

From Wikipedia: “Perhaps the earliest example of a scholar discussing the phenomena of technological unemployment occurs with Aristotle, who speculated in Book One of Politics that if machines could become sufficiently advanced, there would be no more need for human labour.”

It has been reported repeatedly that Queen Elizabeth I of England refused to grant a patent for a weaving machine because it would put the hand weavers out of work. She was correct. It did.

I was talking with an acquaintance about the effects of AI (artificial intelligence) and IT (information technology) on the work environment and the elimination of many jobs. A touch plate at a fast food ordering counter could replace an order taker. So could many other jobs.

One job I held for 7½ years was a scheduling supervisor in a factory. I had decided to quit after about four years. The work was tedious and very stressful. It took me the next 3½ years to find work that would pay more and appeared to offer a chance of advancement. I was responsible for all the production schedules and work orders in the factory. If something went wrong in the middle of the night, the night foreman called me. Today that job would be done more accurately by a computer generated program that could accomplish my 40 plus hour weekly job in minutes.

My father was a structural engineer. He retired just as computers were beginning to be used to calculate stress analysis. His calculation tool was a slide rule. He was a mathematical genius. Today those calculations can be more accurately accomplished using a computer that would provide the results in minutes not hours. The drafting of the structure can now be provided by a computer driven drafting machine rather than a draftsman.

Perhaps the order taker at the fast food counter will still have a job preparing the order. Perhaps the mathematical genius will be working on a program in Silicon Valley. One thing is certain. All jobs that can be mechanized and/or computer driven will result in fewer jobs.

I rarely take my car to a repair garage because they too have been fitted with longer lasting components. Thanks to a well-made furnace and plumbing in my house the need for service maintenance is reduced. That means there is no growing need for service industry workers.

I have yet to hear anyone, neither politician, corporate leader, nor social engineer, explain how even the brightest people will care for their families when the number of jobs is in decline.

We have a serious societal challenge and no answers. Joel Kotkin and other commentators have observed the issue. Now what?

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