I stumbled across an article in the news today which touches upon something near and dear to me- namely, what can we do to improve the lives of people going forward into the future, near and far.

If you read the article, which is about automation in the workplace, you will find that automation won’t entirely replace human labor, but it will remove the repetitive, the boring, and the dangerous. Unfortunately, that will probably eliminate a lot of jobs and workers. What will arise to employ those displaced workers, no one quite knows. Policymakers hope (BTW, hope is not a plan) that new technologies and industries will arise to employ the unwashed masses, or if that fails, there will be social nets for everyone.

Social nets can only be maintained when there is a demographic and economic base to support them, of course.

There’s also kind of a problem with the loss of jobs. It’s basic human dignity. Common sense, right? You go to some kind of employment, you work your hours, and you bring home a paycheck to provide for your family one way or another. Your life has meaning, you actually do something.

I have known many who took great pride in doing jobs that were repetitive, boring, or dangerous. Jobs that will be, or have been, replaced by machines.

Living where I do, I have watched whole armies of steelworkers and coal miners have their entire existence chopped from underneath them. They have little prospect of a better life for their families. “Retrain”, people say. Tell that to a fifty year old press operator who knows nothing else. “Go to college” is another. What of the person who can’t do much more than simple math? “Start a business,” the chorus goes. Well, many people want no part of that, either.

The simple truth is that way too many are being left behind by our supercharged age, and our policymakers need to pull their heads out of their collective backsides and realize this.

Technology and innovation is fine, it’s what drives us forward as humans. We need answers, though, to some crucial questions. What will people do? Where will people do it? What jobs do we find for people who lack talent? Education? Motivation?

My solution is a massive emphasis on space expansion, but of course I would say that. I’m one of those crazed science fiction authors. I think it’s doable, though, and a lot of top-flight people are working on the problem right now. It would be nice if all the plans become commercially viable before the bottom potentially drops out on what we have now. Of course, in placing faith on “space,” I fall into the same logical trap as the policymakers I mentioned above (i.e. I make the assumption that technology will increase employment across the board). But hey, at least I have an idea. I’m not convinced that our elected officials have one.

Time will tell. We live in a world of unparalleled opportunity and danger. Let’s make that “worlds,” we’ll be better for it. With that effort, we’ll come up with something for people to do.

As my Grandma used to always say, “Idle hands do the devil’s work.”

With increasing tempo, automation is idling too many hands.



4 thoughts on “Automation

  1. I’ve been talking about this recently with a few friends. It’s a hard one to crack. We need to go forward but in going forward we tend to leave others behind, normally those who need the most help keeping up.
    I agree with you that work provides dignity. It’s not just about the money.



  2. I’ve been talking about this as well. Although they (‘they’ as in the general consensus of the time) did say with the advent of computers we wouldn’t need paper anymore . . . . . : )

    The problem we discussed at work was that around the time they are talking this will kick in (20yrs or so) we’ll be approaching or at 60yrs old. Too young to retire and live off savings, too old to be worth training for a couple of years to retire. Do we all retrain now or let the ‘come what may’ attitude rule?


  3. Yeah, I’m old enough to remember that one about the “new paperless age,” too. Never happened. Automation has claimed a lot of jobs, though. I know many victims personally. Hell, some burger joints are already looking at replacing their people at the counter with kiosks, and large retailers here in the ‘States have already rolled out lots of self-checkouts.

    We don’t have the luxury our parents did of a job for life. Best thing to do is look down the road at what you’re doing now, and imagining if a machine can easily do it. If so, start looking at your options.

    As an aside, I’ll bet something a lot of people haven’t thought about is the future impact that CGI will have on acting. Why should the studios pay the big bucks for stars, when a computer can do the job for a lot less cocaine and hookers?


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