In my last post, I covered how the initial goal of industrialists was to make humans into robots, or Homo Roboticus. This allowed for enhanced efficiency and profits thanks to the division or specialization of labor. It wasn’t necessarily good for the simple human working in the pin factory, but it was great for the owners and the rest of society who were able to buy more than they ever imagined possible.
Now that technology is progressing even more rapidly than in the past when machines took jobs from the field and factory, there’s an army of humans who are building even more robots and technology to take jobs from other humans. Now we’re on to step two, making robots to replace humans.
In the last year, there was a major rage in the news covering the imminent loss of jobs due to artificial intelligence. It’s easy to find lists of all the jobs that will be lost to artificial intelligence.
Technology is progressing to the point where many of our simple jobs can be done better and cheaper by a robot. Many of the tech companies are pushing this as fast as they can so they no longer have to deal with “human resources” issues that come with hiring humans. Humans are so entitled with their wants, demanding things like a fair wage, overtime, health insurance and routine breaks.
Robots want none of that, and that’s why companies love them. What does that mean to all of the humans who will lose their jobs?
The good news is we’ve seen this before and survived. In Colonial American and all the way up to the Industrial Revolution, the majority of Americans were involved in agriculture. In fact, estimates range from 90% to 95% of Americans lived and/or worked on the farm. That’s how the majority of people fed themselves and made an income.
Fast forward to today and only 2% of Americans are involved with life on the farm. 2%!! What the heck happened to the other 93% of Americans who were pushed out of work when the “robots” of the industrial age tooketh over?
The change didn’t happen overnight and many other industries popped up that created more jobs. The fact is most Americans are okay with this change and found other productive ways to make money and spend their time.
I’m certainly glad I don’t have to toil over the soil for 12 hours per day doing extremely manual labor like tilling ground or planting seeds. The technology that built tractors, seeders and harvesters allowed this to happen… I’m too lazy to even look up the names of actual tractors so I just guessed – I’d never survive on a farm!
Robots and machines took away many jobs, but in the end they were mostly jobs that didn’t allow “enlargement of the mind” as Adam Smith feared most factory jobs didn’t provide. They were the simple monotonous jobs or the incredibly physically challenging jobs that life on the farm presented.
Robots of today are somewhat different, but most of the jobs I’ve seen robots actually take aren’t the ones that pay a lot of money. They’re the simple and monotonous jobs that not many people like anyway.
In fact, my household has already been hard hit. A few years ago, we bought a Roomba to outsource all of our floor vacuuming needs. If this is any indication of the future we’re all screwed… because after watching it mindlessly and clumsily bounce around the kitchen for an hour and get stuck under a chair, we turn it off and vacuum ourselves!
While artificial intelligence and robots will have an impact on our future and take jobs, I believe it will go slower than predicted, and there will still be plenty of jobs for everyone to have, like “robot supervisor”. Just as I referenced Styx and Mr. Roboto in my last post, their lyrics are relevant for this post as well:
“Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto
For doing the jobs that nobody wants to”
Maybe we need to stop fearing the impending doom of artificial intelligence and robots taking our jobs like hamburger flippers and soda fillers and instead realize they’re often doing the jobs that nobody wants to.
The biggest impact of robots taking our menial jobs is that we’ll have to find better ways of spending our time. Currently, it seems to include arguing if life is better as a Democrat or Republican and seeing what Kanye West is up to. Robots aren’t forcing that to happen, we’re choosing it ourselves. Instead of trying to find ways to improve ourselves, we fall back into the “easy” paths of non-thinking entertainment.
Don’t fear the robots, fear the humans.