New technology creates jobs too
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.