The fear of losing jobs to technology has been around for quite a while. This topic has been enthusiastically taken up by many authors in books; to name but a few, “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future”, “Human Need Not Apply”, “The Industries of the Future”. And they all have a similar focus—notions on the potential complications caused by accelerating technology, particularly in the redundancy of jobs.
Self-service kiosks in McDonald’s allow customers to order and pay for their food without a cashier. Adidas has a robotic shoe manufacturing plant in Germany that can make an entire shoe in about five hours without human workers. Uber’s self-driving cars launched their pilot program in the streets of San Francisco last December. These few examples are adduced to prove that robotics have already begun their march on labors—slowly but surely.
Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft Corporation, is one of the many who is concerned about automation and its threat to workers. In a recent interview, he suggested taxing the use of robots in order to slow its spread and to fund other employments. He mentioned: “Right now if a human worker does, you know, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level.”
Inequality among people.
The workforce furcates mainly into two groups. There is the highly paid, skilled labor who have specialized training or knowledge to perform the job such as senior managers and doctors. On the other hand, there is the low-paid unskilled labor that doesn’t require special dexterity—routine and repetitive jobs such as those in manufacturing. As more jobs get automated, an increase in inequality among people could ensue. Highly skilled workers may end up commanding the robots or leveraging them for their productivity, beefing up their already high salaries, while the unskilled workers get laid off with no bacon to bring home.
Bill Gates is not wrong to say that we should be thinking ahead of time about how to implement measures, utilize policies, in order to manage and alleviate any disruptions caused by automation. It is important because the technology and business cases for replacing manpower in a wide range of jobs will turn up simultaneously.
I would say the establishment of employment opportunities and equality in income distribution are two key factors to mitigate complications from automation. Companies have to make it easier for workers to develop new skills and switch jobs as needed. And the government should play an active role in initiating long-term measures to solve the income inequality issue and other potential problems even before they arise.
Continuous education and adaptability have never been more valuable than they are now.
It’s absolutely crucial that individuals also do their parts to shape their own fates. There will definitely be some new jobs created in the process of automation. E.g. Self-driving vehicles will still require remote operators to handle emergencies. We have to learn to be exceedingly adaptable, continuously building and layering on new skills to be relevant, to add value, and move upstream to higher skilled jobs. Complacency is not an option. Willingness to put more effort forth to improve is a must.
While it’s inevitable that major technology shifts are changing much more rapidly—they don’t have to scare us. So long as we evolve alongside it, there will be opportunities that only us, humans, can effectively seize.