Robots. How quaint. The word itself conjures up images of 1960’s Sci-Fi predictions of The Jetsons and Star Trek. The enormous social changes imagined by futurists and comic book authors has largely not come to pass. Yet now, in 2014, it seems there are renewed predictions of a robot economy that will displace a large part of the workforce.
Free-marketeers seek to allay these concerns by pointing to the historical record. At virtually every point of technological progress, labour has found alternate uses – new jobs, new industries and of course, the design and maintenance of the new technology itself. The horse and buggy made way for the automobile, the farm hand for the mechanized picker, the abacus for the calculator.
Vast portions of the workforce, pre- and post-industrial age, were engaged in the same core activities: transportation, hospitality, manufacturing, law, medicine, accounting, administration, cleaning, mining, government. Taking transportation as an example, ‘autos’, the new fully automated self-driving vehicles will wipe out the drivers. Where once the horse driver became a truck driver, ‘autos’ have no driver. Will we need millions of undocumented unskilled illiterate freedom-seekers to flip burgers when there is a ‘burger machine‘ that never gets sick, takes a smoking break or eats the ingredients?
Will workers of the world be forced to look after their investments?
I think we should be concerned. The coming rise in automation will have profound impacts on our lives in ways that have not been considered outside of the Sci-Fi genre. Post in the comments how you think this will begin to change things.