New tech­nol­ogy cre­ates jobs too

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - TWOCENTS - By Jeremy Gar­lick

Re­ports that driver­less cars, ro­bots and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence are go­ing to take away mil­lions of jobs across the world pro­lif­er­ate in the me­dia these days. Yet I have to say that I won­der whether this is re­ally true.

I re­mem­ber pre­vi­ous pre­dic­tions that due to ma­chines we would soon all be work­ing four-hour days four days a week, at least in de­vel­oped coun­tries. That was in the 1970s, a dif­fer­ent age.

As it turns out, all the fore­casts of ro­bots re­plac­ing hu­mans didn’t come to pass. Here we are in 2017, and there are still mil­lions of peo­ple la­bor­ing in fac­to­ries and toil­ing in mines.

And it’s just as well. If all those work­ers were re­placed by ma­chines, un­em­ploy­ment would soar. Even if we all want eas­ier lives, no­body wants the global econ­omy to col­lapse.

The lat­est in­no­va­tion on the hori­zon is driver­less cars, which are be­ing tested in the US and China with con­sid­er­able suc­cess.

Of course, ve­hi­cles with­out hu­mans at the con­trols would mean that the liveli­hoods of hun­dreds of thou­sands of pro­fes­sional driv­ers would be threat­ened. If self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles re­ally take over our roads, what will all those job­less driv­ers do?

White-col­lar work­ers may think that they are safe from the in­va­sion of the ro­bots, but this may not be the case. Some sci­en­tists be­lieve that it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore most ad­min­is­tra­tive po­si­tions are filled by com­puter pro­grams.

Be­fore that hap­pens, many man­ual la­bor work­ers could be out of work. Car fac­to­ries are al­ready largely au­to­mated. Su­per­mar­kets are look­ing to re­place cashiers with self­check­out ma­chines, which are al­ready in wide­spread use in the UK. Per­haps it’s only a mat­ter of time.

How­ever, this way of look­ing at things takes lit­tle ac­count of the na­ture of tech­no­log­i­cal change. An ex­am­i­na­tion of his­tory re­veals that ev­ery time there was a ma­jor tech­no­log­i­cal shift, such as the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion, peo­ple were ter­ri­fied of los­ing their jobs to the ma­chines.

In the late 18th cen­tury, a move­ment arose in Bri­tain to smash ma­chines be­cause the work­ers be­lieved they were re­plac­ing them. These an­ti­au­toma­tion demon­stra­tors were called the Lud­dites, and they made it their mis­sion to stop progress in its tracks.

The Lud­dites sim­ply didn’t un­der­stand that while some jobs were in­deed dis­ap­pear­ing, others were emerg­ing. When tech­nol­ogy changes, there is a de­mand for new types of work­ers.

In our age, for in­stance, mil­lions of peo­ple work with com­put­ers. Most of these jobs didn’t ex­ist even 30 years ago.

It’s not that com­put­ers have re­placed hu­mans, but rather that they have given hu­mans a mul­ti­tude of new tasks to per­form. Each of these needs a per­son at the con­trols, shap­ing the con­tent that the com­put­ers al­low us to cre­ate.

The point is that rather than re­plac­ing hu­mans al­to­gether, the ad­vent of new tech­nol­ogy opens up new vis­tas and new em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

We may not yet know what all these pos­si­bil­i­ties are, but that does not mean tech­no­log­i­cal change will not be ac­com­pa­nied by new jobs galore.

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