We entered a new phase in our relationship with our machines this year. Mark it on your iPhone calendar. 2014, the year we started to understand that we face a much more uncertain future than we anticipated a decade ago. Life was so simple before we were in a contest for jobs with our own technology. The ‘rise of the machines’, once the province of science fiction, now haunts our conscious mind, and while we carry on our daily lives as though everything is the same, we know in our gut – this is only the beginning.
“Technological unemployment”, is pretty simple. It is the recognition that advanced technologies are now being applied that reduce workforce labor requirements. This is not new. What is new, is the scale and scope of these changes and the consequent impact on our lives.
Discovery News did a photo essay recently highlighting areas where machines can do things better than humans. The story began with piloting airplanes (article published following the crash of the Asiana Boeing 777), and included surgery, farming, financial trading, and fighting wars. In Taiwan, the world’s leading electronics manufacturer, Foxconn, is pushing forward with a plan to add a million robots to their factories, and this week, while the debate in Washington, D.C. over Immigration Reform was in progress, the Star Tribune in Wisconsin published an article titled: “Agricultural robots could revolutionize fresh-market fruit, veggie production, ease labor woes”.
Economist, Paul Krugman, notes that prior to 2000, the economic struggle was fundamentally worker against worker. He suggests that after 2000 “technological trends were turning against workers”. It seems clear, that technological unemployment is hear to stay, and that we have no plan, no clue about what to do about it, or how we should approach the profound social, cultural, and economic implications of a world with diminishing prospects for human endeavor and human society on this planet.
The Robots are now a part of our dinner conversation, and it seems they are here to stay.