Whenever technology removes jobs from the economy through automation or efficiency improvements, we hear about the negatives. Whatever will the world’s farriers do now that Henry Ford’s automobile is here?
In truth, the advent of the automobile created millions of jobs globally. From road pavers and auto mechanics to insurance companies and Formula One racers, the automobile’s arrival traded thousands of farriers and horse breeders for millions of workers in skilled and unskilled fields. Nobody mourns for obsolete industries.
Change tends to bring chaos. Ask auto workers in Detroit about automation in the workplace. Their outlook may be less rosy.
Yet those factory jobs wouldn’t have existed in the first place without ‘job-killing’ innovations in manufacturing and transportation. When we create more efficient ways of doing things, we reduce the number of jobs needed to do that thing, whatever it may be. This is called progress.
Let’s pose a big picture question: is humanity’s purpose to be productive? Maybe. It feels a little hollow, no? Are we people, or are we economic units? If we view automation through the lens of ‘giving us our lives back’, wouldn’t that be a noble goal and an exciting concept?
We have chosen to embrace automation because it’s killing the kinds of jobs that ought to die and because it’s inevitable. Automation is progress. There are challenges posed by automation, of course. Robots don’t collect salaries, but someone has to. We all need to continue to experience financial security. More humans around the world need to attain financial security.
What I ask of you, dear reader, is to put aside your fear of the future. The golden age of automation is for us, the people — if we seize it. The coming decades may prove chaotic. Automation will require reimagining our economies and our ways of life. Progress always does.