The stereotypical futuristic sci-fi story involves highly advanced robots, originally built to perform domestic chores, but which have now become ‘aware’ and have decided to turn their built-in, multi-purpose whisk utensils against their squishy, unsuspecting human masters. Despite this amusing but somewhat moronic conjecture, technology is undeniably essential to humanity.
Think about how much different your life would be if you had to produce food and clothing by hand? Today’s equivalents of such technological advances as the scythe and the needle are self-service checkouts and automated manufacturing plants. They were created for the same purpose – to replace human labour – and they do the same jobs as we can do; but faster, better and (most importantly) cheaper. This concept is called technological unemployment.
Here’s the issue: our current economy obligates businesses to maximise profit, which means replacing human employment with machines. On the other hand, it equally relies on consumption, which requires consumers to have capital which, in turn, requires human employment. Furthermore, around 70% of jobs worldwide today could be automated; indeed, the only things holding back full automisation are technological progress and initial investment. Nevertheless, it is slowly happening. We increasingly interact more with machines than with humans and every year more and more jobs are lost to the circuit board.
So what are we supposed to do about it? On the one hand we have the certainty of growing unemployment but, on the other, the fundamental counter-intuition of repressing technological progress. To me it seems clear that the only way forward is to embrace technology and maximise the potential to reduce costs, providing us with the ability to feed, clothe and house the majority of the world’s population. Unfortunately, this idea just doesn’t fit in with the ‘every man for himself’ nature of our current economic system.
Nicholas Chowdrey 26.03.2012
Picture source: http://www.chilloutpoint.com/featured/human-and-robots-visions-of-the-future.html