Robots Are Taking Our Jobs


In a previous post I mentioned some articles and books about the possibility that the “Luddite fallacy” is no longer a fallacy, that we may finally be entering an era where computing eliminates more jobs than human inventiveness can create as replacements. The idea seems to have caught on, and The Economist has published a long article about it, which may officially make it conventional wisdom. The whole thing is fascinating because, while we can’t predict the future, there is a genuine possibility that we’re on the verge of a great restructuring. The article mentions a previous restructuring that occurred when machines were able to take over much of the work of farming, and suggests that the modern white-collar office job may go the way of farmhands:

In many ways, the white-collar employees who man the cubicles of business today share the plight of agricultural workers a century ago. In 1900, nearly half of the adult population worked on the land. Thanks to tractors, combine harvesters, crop-picking machines and other forms of mechanisation, agriculture now accounts for little more than 2% of the working population.

Displaced agricultural workers then, though, could migrate from fields to factories and earn higher wages in the process. What is in store for the Dilberts of today? Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff (“Program or Be Programmed” and “Life Inc”) would argue “nothing in particular.” Put bluntly, few new white-collar jobs, as people know them, are going to be created to replace those now being lost—despite the hopes many place in technology, innovation and better education.

Two final points and I’ll let this subject go: one, this is primarily a discussion about the future, and the ongoing trends. Though the article ties automation to the current high rates of unemployment, there doesn’t seem to be a direct one-on-one relationship between the two. Not yet anyway. And two, this may well sound more alarming than it will really turn out to be; discussions about what comes next, or what ultimately will replace automated jobs, tend to be circumscribed by what we know. Maybe there is a sector in which new jobs will be created (some have suggested that as information becomes cheaper and natural resources become scarcer, work will head in that direction) but if we knew what it was, we’d be out there buying stock like crazy.

Finally, if this subject goes mainstream, South Park might revive its greatest catchphrase once again and do an episode where robots take everyone’s jobs.

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Robots Are Taking Our Jobs

  1. Yes, the Knowledge Economy is here…and it’s going to cause tremendous displacement and a lot of ‘future shock’.

  2. I wonder if this might be the impetus we need to start considering some significant changes to our society. Say the 20 hour work week?

    Even with unemployment at 9%, doubling the need for workers would to vastly outstrip that, so we’ll end up with higher wages as companies compete to fill employment positions (which is important, because of the reduction of hours), fuller employment, meaning more demand. Less corporate money available for the top tiers (since it will need to be spent on ensuring the front-lines are full) thus addressing to some extent the income inequality problem, and giving people enough leisure so they can do things like choose to take a second job, thus bringing their income up even more, or perhaps spend less of their money on daycare, perhaps take the time to pursue more training, or develop that idea they’ve had in their heads.

    • I’m not following the logic on this….if there are no jobs, how does that translate into two 20 hour jobs?

      • If you think they’ll take over everything we do, you not only don’t understand technology, but you don’t understand human nature.

        • LOL apparently you aren’t paying attention to technology. Yes, they can take over pretty much everything the majority of humans do.

          That’s the ‘future shock’ I’m always referring to.

          • No. They can’t. There’s a reason the automat didn’t take over in the 50s, and it still applies. People like dealing with people.

          • LOL Yeah they can…and people won’t have any say in the matter

            Nobody liked answering machines or voicemail either but voila

          • Actually, a lot of people quite liked them. Sure, folks would gripe about having to talk to them, but they still wanted one for themselves. That’s why they’re in use. The things people in general don’t like tend to go away.

          • @Thwim:disqus 

            Lot’s of people liked automats as well….they disappeared for other reasons.

            And there won’t be a choice on the robots.

  3. some have suggested that as information becomes cheaper and natural resources become scarcer, work will head in that direction

    How will that work exactly?  We’ll replace professors and research scientists with robots, but we’ll still have people mining for coal???  I say that the day that the prevalence of robots start shifting people from the information economy back to a resource economy is the day that we should start building different kinds of robots!!!

  4. Is everyone familiar with the lump of labour fallacy?

    Everyone remember when the backhoe put all those ditchdiggers out of work? And there they remain on our welfare rolls for eternity… oh wait.

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