This is the first in a two-part series. The first article explains why we should embrace automation today, especially if it replaces jobs. The second will demonstrate why automation is better in the far future, when 60-70% of present day’s tasks are automated.
Can a process that systematically destroys jobs help us? Immeasurably. Here are five things we need to understand about technology that improves all our lives, and the lives of the young and the poor in particular.
1.Automation increases standard of living.
Advancing technology increases the utility one can get out of limited resources. Automation reduces waste and releases assets for life improvement. Airline search engines optimize flights and fill empty seats, a win-win for both consumers and carriers. More efficient use of resources is better for everyone because more people get to use those resources.
2. Especially for the poor.
Making things cheaper and easier often benefit the poor most. Self-driving cars may one day cost truckers their jobs, but the result is cheaper produce and household items. Automated cashiers allow for shorter lines at a lower cost to the grocery store; cost savings passed onto the consumer. The cost savings from more efficient distribution of groceries benefit those whose “food” takes up the largest proportion of their budget. Even small improvements in efficiencies are epic to those living on the margin.
3. Resource efficiency increases the opportunity for better jobs.
A job is something you do that makes people’s lives better. It is not a set list of filled and unfilled positions in the economy. In 1840, farmers were 70% of the labor force. Now the labor of only 2% of citizens produce enough food to feed America, and there’s even a surplus. The children and grandchildren of the other 68% of farmers did not become jobless; they found new ways to add value to society, now that the lowest rung of Maslow's hierarchy is met. Human desire is a bottomless appetite. There will always be ways to find and fill new gaps.
4. These jobs are often more fulfilling.
When people are no longer spending their time and money solely on meeting the necessities, there’s more space for travel, art and games. Travel search engines makes travel agents redundant but means people are able to direct more money they would’ve spent paying their agent towards traveling—and activities like paddleboard yoga that are more interesting for the person getting paid. Automation doesn’t always mean fewer desk jobs, but it does by nature take out the most repetitive jobs.
5. Constant churning of jobs and skills increases social mobility.
When new skills are required, new talent has the opportunity to be competitive. The need shifts to a willingness to learn and work hard. This doesn’t always mean that people in lower classes will be equipped to take advantage of opening doors. However, this economic structure of continual change is set up better to integrate new talent if society empowers those in lower classes to fill that gap. Job churn also benefits the youngest members of the work force, who at least in recent memory, are most vulnerable in economic downturn. We have already seen this in the marketing industry, where the best digital advertising technologies are constantly shifting. Young interns distinguish themselves with workplace innovations such as automating a documenting system, because many have grown up learning to adapt and utilize new technology, not to mention basic coding knowledge.
My profession is graphic design. It is continuously in the process of being automated, each new edition bringing tools like one-click white balancing and color-palette creation. But these things simply increase my capacity and improve my work. Graphic design continues to be a growing profession, we’re just better at it now--look at any website from 2010. Automated design and technologies like those integrated into Photoshop won’t mean fewer jobs, it will mean more interesting ones. Automated graphic design will take out the more tedious tasks, while the more challenging and rewarding ones that require radical creativity and deep marketing understanding will remain.
As we become more efficient, resources such as labor and time, as well as physical resources, become more abundant. It will be up to us to invest these resources correctly. One possibility is that as technology becomes a more integral part of our lives, we will need to remain tech-savy in order to keep up with those advancements. This could mean pouring more resources into education. When agriculture jobs became redundant, the United States continued to succeed by improving access to higher forms of education. We can do the same today, whether that means changing of our current education system or simply expanding it.
Automation will change the landscape of this planet, but not for the worse. Entire sets of problems will evaporate, some luxuries of today will become commonplace. Skills will periodically become redundant, and this will be a blessing, if we let it. Millennials are already adapting, changing roles and companies more than any generation before them. Technology that makes a task easier, faster, and cheaper will not make the world worse, especially for the poor, and, unhindered, it can make it quite better.