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.