Coding Our Future: Technology and Jobs

Robots are replacing factory workers. Automated operating systems are taking the place of customer service centers. Computers are writing news that used to be composed by journalists. And wearable devices are making diagnostic healthcare workers expendable.

It is easy to come to the conclusion that the advance of technology and the automation that comes with it will soon leave a substantial portion of world’s population without the wherewithal to make a living. But in fact, among the researchers who have studied this issue, few, if any, have found statistical evidence of this.

While there is no question that technology disrupts the job market, the question of whether it creates or destroys more jobs has no clear answer. The Pew Research Center recently posed the question to 1,896 persons who they considered experts. (AI, Robotics and the Future of Jobs). Asked whether technology will displace more jobs than it creates, 48% said yes; 52% said no.

Those supporting the more positive outlook argued that “advances in technology may displace certain types of work, but historically, they have been a net creator of jobs.”

Those who celebrate the advance of technology and its impact on the labor market also look at it from the standpoint of quality of work. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Liviu Nedelescu, founder and CEO of Avansys Solutions discusses “Why We Should Want Robots to Take Some Jobs.” Nedelscu dismisses “the dominant dismal view that rapid technological innovation has been gobbling up jobs faster than it is creating them.”

Fender

(phaewilk)

“We have for the majority of humanity’s history used humans for menial, robotic, repeatable efficiency-minded tasks,” Nedelscu notes, suggesting instead, “Humans should eventually be left to more or less exclusively deal with open-ended endeavors that generate new organic value (as opposed to efficiency derived value).”

There are also those in North America and Western Europe who see automation as a way of reversing the decades old trend of outsourcing work to those parts of the world with the least expensive labor pool, those places where workers get paid the least. They see automation as a way to bring the work back home.

These arguments are perhaps most attractive when viewed from the position of the relatively comfortable classes in the developed world. I’m not sure we can in fact create work based on “open-ended endeavors” for the millions of factory workers in Asia, fruit pickers in Central America or outsourced office workers in India.

What happens to persons who don’t have access to the education that enables them to thrive amidst the new opportunities that automation creates. Even in the U.S. there are those who don’t get the education necessary to enable them to aspire to something more than unskilled labor.

Afternoon lunch

(Peter Griffin)

If one robot can replace 100 factory workers in China and 50 of these robots can be managed by one guy sitting at a laptop in the U.S., we have indeed brought jobs home, but I’m not sure what we have achieved.

(See also Coding Our Future: What Becomes of Work?)

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23 Responses to Coding Our Future: Technology and Jobs

  1. jacquiegum says:

    This is is a tough for me, as I think of it. My outlook has always been towards the more positive side in that innovation creates more jobs than it destroys by creating a need for ancillary services. But I guess, until we see what these are designed to do, it’s hard to tell. But it’s coming, that’s for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. lenie5860 says:

    Ken, remember when everyone started with computers and it was supposed to dramatically reduce paper use? Well, that hasn’t happened – in fact I dare say computers have greatly increased paper use.
    I think we will find the same thing with automation – it will eventually increase the number of jobs available. Your point about the ones lacking education not having work – I think there will always be work in the service industry for people willing to work – not every job will be taken over by robots. For instance, if I go out for dinner I will always want to be waited on by a pleasant, knowledgeable waitperson.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Phoenicia says:

    I believe there will always be jobs available. A computer or other form of technology is only as good as the human who designed it.

    There is nothing better than speaking to an actual person when calling your bank’s head office/other organisation. It brings about a personal touch.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. patweber says:

    In the 1980s I sold computers. They were talking about them THEN about replacing people in jobs. Some business owners loved that, others did not. Some jobs are fine to automate others of a more personal relationship almost scream “this job is for a person, not a robot!” It seems from your post, the verdict for robots, from when I started in the computer field, is still out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ken Dowell says:

      I think the scary part is that some of the jobs that we thought in the 1980’s would not be appropriate for robots, are now if fact being done (with marginal success) by computers. For example, telephone customer service.

      Like

  5. Meredith says:

    It’s an interesting cycle, the whole human/computer/robot evolution. It seems to me that automation is pushing people to really appreciate handmade one-of-a-kind items. I wonder what the long-term result will be?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ken Dowell says:

      I think there is a backlash against mass-produced cookie cutter products and services. That’s one of the reasons why on-demand peer sharing services like Uber or Airbnb are becoming popular.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Erica says:

    I do think all this technology will start to create problems for those who don’t have access to education. As you said, it is the menial jobs that are most easily replicated by robots. How will kids pay their way through college if there aren’t any jobs for those who don’t yet have a college degree. Perhaps paid apprenticeships will make a resurgence. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It seems that technology has given birth to new career opportunities. Technology has created more innovative and creative careers. It’s forcing people to stop thinking as that their career path is linear.
    I think some of resistance is fear based. Also there may be an unwillingness to learn new skills. I remember working in mental health and client told me one of her goals was to be a secretary, however she couldn’t type and didn’t have the time to take a course in typing. She asked me, “what should I do”? I told her her thinking was like going into a McDonalds and ordering a hot dog, it ain’t going to happen”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Rather than worry about whether or not we will have jobs and what kinds of jobs those will be, we could be planning for a world without “jobs.” We have tied our livelihood to a concept of “work” that we have created. Automation allows us to fulfill basic needs and then some for all. It would be more interesting to let the machines provide for us and see what a post-work world looks like.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Would be good if your analysis is correct. Doubt it though. What are we going to do with people with lower than average IQ? And that applies to billions of people? How will they make a living in the future? Full time employment is becoming a thing of the past. How can people with low skills become self employed? For intelligent, innovative people with entrepreneurial minds the development is positive but what about the rest of humanity. Don’t have to tell you the problems poverty brings:-)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. While some jobs may slip away due to automation, more will be created. The issue seems to lie in the continued gap between the educated and uneducated. So much more could be done in high school to better prepare students for paying jobs, but education changes at a snail’s pace while the world’s technology speeds ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ken Dowell says:

      So many schools don’t even have the most basic of technology themselves. Imagine how cool it would be if every high school had a 3-D printer and students could create prototypes of their inventions?

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Tim says:

    I began thinking about this a while ago when all the neighborhood book stores began to close. Seemed to me that online stores were taking over and indeed they have to a large extent; Amazon being the key player. The way I see it is not just jobs but passion. If someone really loves books and wants to immerse themselves in books all day and sell them, read them, smell them, then it is almost impossible today. This is a loss.

    Like

  12. Ken Dowell says:

    Always sad to visit a city where you haven’t been for awhile and find that the bookstore is gone. I also love bookstores and have a few favorites around the country which for me are almost travel destinations themselves.

    Like

  13. Andy says:

    I’m not so sure I agree with you that more “education” is necessary regarding the job market. A motivated, at-least-semi-intelligent employee really just needs a modicum of training to be successful at work: what bothers me are employers who are themselves too lazy to provide that training.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I am intrigued about the concept of automation reversing the outsourcing trend. But aren’t we outsourcing to the automation?
    I also, as you pointed out, people who do, nor will ever get the education or training to run these automated robots. What will happen to them? Also, what will happen to the rest of us? If automation becomes more and more advanced, this will mean less people running them, so basically the educated and trained workers in automation will lose their job to.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Ken, I’m afraid I cannot embrace the idea of robotic labour when there are so many humans who are unemployed and impoverished. Granted, some of those people don’t want to do robotic-type labour. But they need to be retrained in their attitude and appreciate what work is offered to them. I would much rather see people working, and hopefully happy and making new friends as opposed to them sitting at home watching TV, unemployed and turning to drugs or alcohol out of depression.

    Like

  16. Um, I don’t know that robots could ever completely replace jobs. While some jobs may lend themselves more to technology than others, how on earth would you automate, say, a lawyer? And on the other end of the spectrum, how could a robot take out the garbage and wash my kitchen floor? Actually, if you know of any, send them my way …

    Like

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