Opinions

Automation: As machines and systems do more and more of the work, how will we adapt to that reality?

      On a global scale jobs are becoming increasingly outsourced to developing countries for their cheap labor, and while there is absolutely a conversation to be had on the humanitarian issue of exploitation, I’d like to focus on jobs themselves. More specifically, how technological leaps and automation have affected the job market, and what that means for the future of the world.

      Globalization has definitely played a huge role in the restructuring of the world economy, but many of the industries that once dominated domestic employment are seemingly non-existent In the entities that currently exist in these industries, the type of work is very different. Factories that used to manage hundreds of workers now employ significantly less people with higher education.

      The machinery and software that allows for this has developed very quickly, probably a lot faster than most of us realize. There was an adage in the early 2000s that the amount of information you could store on a microchip doubled almost every day. While that’s not technically accurate, it paints something of a fair picture of how powerful the information revolution really is. Mass communication and the internet is easy to wrap your mind around, but what we don’t see as readily is how different things like our cars are made.

      Mechanical arms governed by algorithms construct other machines, only interfered with by essential operators. Assembly lines often function as if manned by an invisible crew. It’s not just in production. Self-checkout lines seem to have invaded every space. Recently, our very own Jammin Java added a kiosk similar to the ones already installed at the Breezeway. Many people welcome these touch screens as a more convenient and expedient process, while others worry about machines and computers squeezing an already tight job market.

      There is an position in our public discourse that argues against wage increases or higher taxes, because doing so would incentivize companies to cut back staff and instead install automated systems and machines. It is a logically consistent point, but what it fails to address is why exactly we aren’t already doing so? If it’s cheaper and requires less labor to automate, then why not implement it wherever prudent? It seems that given the technology and the resources to build it, the most logical thing to do would be to automate whatever you can. The very essence of a tool is something that allows us to do more with less.

      We are stuck in economic crisis because regardless of political or economic reasons, the job market will continue to shrink as time goes by. Yes, other markets will open, and new kinds of work (as well as art and scientific pursuit) will become available, but people who have spent their lives working in fields no longer necessary will suffer. It doesn’t have to be this way.

      This issue with technology is not that is harms us directly, but that when the access to resources is limited and centralized in an elite upper societal strata, The human benefit of scientific development is stunted. Where we should all be prospering as a result of our collective human achievement, we instead are forced into ever escalating conflict with one another.

      The skepticism against civil action and public economic activity is very telling in my view. It seems to suggest, that the only thing allowing for stratified socio-economic hierarchies to exist is the protected right to pay insufficient wages and not provide acceptable contribution to the very communities that they derive their wealth. Many of you who study politics recognize this as a decidedly left-wing perspective, and I don’t deny that I am motivated by an the inherent value I hold in social equity and human prosperity. However, whether you can morally justify the centralization of power and wealth is not important. These contradictions in our current economic model exist, and it would be an exercise in self-defeat to not recognize the opportunity that automation provides us.

      A common critique of egalitarian worldviews is something along the lines of “someone has to be the garbage man.” What if that’s actually not true? What if for the first time in human history we will soon no longer need to do any labor for the sake of survival. Maybe will be able to fully realize the sheer human potential tapped in  poverty, and provide a decent quality of life for everyone. More importantly, one could argue that in today’s world we do indeed need “someone has to be the garbage man,” but if something like that is so necessary to our society, shouldn’t we treat the people who do those jobs as just as vital?

      The world we live in is only as unjust as we allow it to be.

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