Will advanced robotics lead to a massive wave of unemployment in the United States? Or will it liberate us from the drudgery of work?
A look at the future of robotics in the workplace
The other day, I was listening to the radio and I heard a commentator say something to the effect of, ‘Well, at least nobody has figured out a robot to take my job away — yet.’
The offhanded comment was very telling. Right now in America, people have a lot of fear about a lot of things. We’re afraid of the future, we’re afraid of foreigners and we’re afraid of terrorism on our shores. So in the midst of all this fear, it gives more credibility to the idea that advanced robotics could seriously disrupt employment.
Throughout history, going back to the dawn of the industrial age, many very bright scholars have stated with conviction that this breakthrough or that breakthrough would lead to massive unemployment. Yet time proves those bright people wrong. We as humans are far more adaptable and versatile than we give ourselves credit for.
If you go back 50 years ago, nearly half of Americans were employed on an assembly line. Today? It’s only 8%. Those who didn’t return to work in the factories went on to work in any number of other places. Of course, some of those people truly did get displaced and economically crushed. They may have never found a decent paying job again.
The reality is we as humans don’t like change. Yet most of us eventually learn how to adapt. Couple that with the fact that emotionally we suffer a loss more than we enjoy a gain, and you can see why people are afraid of robots taking over their jobs.
Yet to get a reality check, it’s always helpful to look back to historical precedent — for example, to a time when agriculture dominated the American lifestyle. Farms used to employ 97% of all Americans. When mechanization of farms came about, there were fears that permanent and severe massive unemployment would result. But we all know how that played out!
Today, farm employment is a fraction of 1% of the U.S. workforce and farms produce more food than ever. The jobs simply came from other places in an increasingly less agrarian society. That’s likely to happen again.
Besides, when you think about the advance of technology, does anybody today think the world would be better off if nobody had a washing machine or a dryer? Would we really be better off if we had to wash our clothes using rocks in a river?!
Technology changes so much. But I don’t want you to buy into the fearmongering that advanced robotics will be the end of us. I say it’s just another technology for us to use for good or evil.
Read more: Should the minimum wage be raised?