Of time and technology
Despite much-hyped fears of low wageworkers around the world taking American jobs, the real culprit is increasingly intelligent machinery.
I have been one of the culprits who have been running around for the past 40 years replacing humans with computer-driven machines. I have never met a businessperson who was not willing to trade workers for increased profits in our capitalist society.
A futurist named Toffler projected the advance of technology as being exponential. So far Mr. Toffler has been right-on-the-money. I guess it is good politics to blame “them” for our problems, but the truth of the matter is that it is your friendly businessperson who is at the root of high unemployment. It does not really matter whether the companies “offshore” jobs or replace workers with intelligent machines. The end result is the same — unemployable workers with only a lifetime of television to put on their resumes.
The average aging American worker is facing competition from increasingly sophisticated intelligent systems at increasingly lower costs. I estimate that the average 40-year-old unemployed American worker needs to acquire the equivalent of a Masters Degree in a high-tech field to become once again employable. Technology will eventually encroach on the careers of even the highly educated. Foxconn, the company that assembles Apple devices, plans to install more than 1 million robots in the next three years.
Where does all of this end? Have we reached the dawn of some sort of new age, where people no longer need to work? The “industrial revolution” only began in the late 18th century and has been accelerating ever since. You may well have to choose between hiring someone to clean your home or a one-time purchase of a domestic robot. The socio-economic implications of your decision will be amplified around the globe.
I recently had the eye-opening pleasure of spending three days with a few of the top theorists at Intel in Portland, Ore. It seems we are only a few years away from producing computers that are slightly more capable than humans. A few years later the same compute power will be available on your hot new iPad. Your home and office, if you still go to an office, or even have a job, will be inhabited by robots of all sizes and descriptions. You will be amazed by technology as you are already.
I have written about the plight of the modern worker before. I see two paths that lay ahead for humanity. One continues to embrace capitalism and corporate profits above all other social values. The other path involves re-thinking the role of human beings in a modern global society. Perhaps we have reached a time when human effort is no longer an essential ingredient in survival. If so, then we will need to re-engineer our social mores that require work as a validation of being alive. What will we all do with our lives if we no longer get to work? Will everyone be on “welfare?” Who will repair the robots that repair the robots? Will we, as a species, be able to fashion a new lifestyle where free time is all the time?
The “lost jobs” are most likely not coming back. These jobs will be replaced with menial tasks not worth the economic investment to engineer a replacement intelligent system. I suspect unemployment will slowly increase as technology permeates into more and more areas of our everyday world. If I can make millions in a week on KickStarter, why do I need a career that may soon be cannibalized by a robot?
I am one of the “old people.” I am a techie so I manage to keep up with technology trends. My grandchildren, who only “text,” recently taught me a few bits of texting jargon so I do not appear as a complete dolt when I communicate with them in “their” world. One of the acronyms is “IKR” — I know, right?! My grandchildren have an innate sense of their future. It does not include a cubical or a boss or even a bank account.
As a famous person once said, “looking into the future, I think I know if you do not ask me to explain.”