‘End of Work’ – Machine World Part 2

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We should have known that we were in trouble when one of the world’s largest electronics manufacturers announced a plan to deploy a million robots (Taiwan’s Foxconn – Hon Hai Precision Industry Co with facilities in Taiwan, China, Brazil and the US).


We should have paid more attention to Martin Ford’s warnings in The Lights in the Tunnel, when he raised the alarm about an event horizon less than a generation hence that poses existential challenges for our economy, and our society.


It’s a Thursday early in October, 2013. The US Government has been shutdown for over a week, but I think the really big news this month concerns an Oxford University study of jobs at risk due to automation, increased use of robots, and computerization. It is the shutdown, however, that’s in the headlines. The former is yet another sign that we have really big problems to worry about, and the latter is a political aberration and manufactured “crisis” that will be replaced by yet another manufactured “crisis” a month from now. Of course, it should be noted that a representative government focused on fighting about one self-created crisis after another is not likely to be eager to address topics like the ‘end of work’ in any meaningful way.

Oh, and then there’s that industry our politicians were touting a few years ago as a source of future jobs. You remember the promise of clean energy – good for the environment and jobs. Now, there’s a California startup that wants to automate construction and maintenance of large solar projects.

As computerization, robotics and automation eliminate close to 50% of our jobs in two decades, what are the prospects of our economy creating truly new jobs to replace those lost? Our economy’s job creation over the past several years has been less than spectacular.

The implications of this study are that we face an unprecedented economic decline that could ultimately result in a catastrophic collapse. Such an event puts our jobs, our economy, and our society at risk.

AT RISK – WHAT WE DO – WHO WE ARE

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Last week, a post on memeburn predicted; “A larger scale version of an ‘Occupy Wall Street’-type movement will begin by the end of 2014, indicating that social unrest will start to foster political debate.” I don’t know whether social unrest will begin in nations with advanced economies due to technological unemployment. I am more inclined to believe that the social narrative the Democratic Party is pushing about ‘restoring the middle class’ will have more credence than technological unemployment. However, it is important to note the technological unemployment canaries in our coal mine seem to be succumbing.

Make no mistake. Machine World is coming. We are as dependent upon our technology and our machines as we are upon the air we breathe. We have before us a historic opportunity, an opportunity to define a new world – beyond the end of work.

That should be our focus. Machine World will be what we make of it – or what we fail to make of it.



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