One of the common misconceptions about technology is that it is destroying more jobs than it creates. The notion that ‘robots can implicate the human labour workforce’ is creating this illusion of a dire future human labour workforce, where many will become jobless. So I have taken the plunge to prove the fact how robots cannot exceed the human intellect in all areas of work, thus the human workforce will still be required more than ever, particularly with the rise in sophisticated technology.
‘Impressive advances in computer technology—from improved industrial robotics to automated translation services—are largely behind the sluggish employment growth of the last 10 to 15 years.’ The professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, Erik Brynjolfsson and his co–author Andrew McAfee shared this statement corresponding with their book, Race Against the Machine. The authors highlight how organizations are substituting technology for people, and that corporate use of technologies such as the Web, artificial intelligence, big data, improved analytics with the ever increasing and availability of cheap computing power and storage capacity—are automating many regular routine work leaving many jobless.
Surely this comes at no surprise, as the number of manual routine work has declined significantly since the fall of the 20th century. But is technology really this job-eating monster, as these ‘technology pundits’ make it out to be?
The Rational Optimist Matt Ridley, notes how in the 1700s four out of five British workers were employed on farms, but as technology evolved and made it possible for tractors and combine harvesters, lesser manual labour intensive work remained, with just one-in-fifty remaining in manual farm jobs by the 1900s. This clearly shows how technology eased the pressure of human labour workforce but doesn’t explain why people are in employment more than ever before.
The automation of low skilled manual jobs not only reduced the human labour workforce and increased productivity, but it also induced a human labor shift where people re-skilled themselves to adapt to new technology. This contributed to a number of job opportunities in the service sector, requiring higher level of skills, education and training. Consequently, these higher skilled jobs paid a higher rate of salary, which meant that workers had more disposal income to spend on quality of products and services such as food, travel, leisure and housing; resulting to a greater demand for jobs across industries. However, some would argue that other factors can form part of this equation such as your social class, education, shift in urbanization, economic growth as well as pure luck.
To further deter this notion of ‘technology destroys more jobs than it creates’, Professor James Bessen mentions in his blog how this argument was consistently wrong and how the ‘offsetting benefits of automation’ were ignored. He writes:
‘During the 19th century, machines took over tasks performed by weavers, eliminating 98 percent of the labor needed to weave a yard of cloth. But this mechanization also brought a benefit: It sharply reduced the price of cloth, so people consumed much more. Greater demand for cloth meant that the number of textile jobs quadrupled despite the automation.’
Ridley’s blog further questions why significant amount of women are in employment more than ever, despite domestic services evolving from ‘mangles and dusters’ into mechanized technology such as washing up machines and electric vacuum cleaners. His statement indicates how technology has played a great factor in liberating women in the domestic field, making it convenient for women to do housework efficiently without compromising childcare and their careers. However, one could question this by examining the other factors that could contribute to more women in the workplace such as the use of contraceptives, change of gender roles in society and the change in women’s aspirations?
At this stage your probably thinking if technology has the solution to most human skilled jobs, and that robots can replicate the human behaviour, then what is there left for people to do? Well, firstly it is we humans that design these innovative robotic technologies to perform various duties to relieve the human labor workforce. Therefore, if we are eliminating the human labour workforce by introducing technology into our corporate businesses then we are somewhat balancing this out by employing various people to design and manufacture these. We are increasing the demand for software, mechanical, electronic, and design engineers who can work on these technological projects, supporting in R&D, materials and manufacture. After all, technologies are forever evolving with societies current needs and wants, and no technology would be sufficient to carry out the same task for too long before going obsolete.
Now to question whether robots can adequately replicate all areas of the human labour workforce? The answer is simply No! Humans have a far greater intellect and are much better at aspects concerning creativity, innovation, Art, Science, Manual labour work, interpersonal skills and entertainment.
According to Brynjolfsson and the study by Oxford martin School & faculty of Philosophy there are three key areas of human endeavor that will be resistant to automation in the short and medium term.
- Manual Jobs. These types of jobs require physical strength from humans, such as shelf stocking, Rail track construction, reflexologist, massage therapists, mechanics, health care worker, which often involve working class people with lower wages. Technology cannot replicate manual job roles as lower level skills require much more computational resources in comparison to high level reasoning jobs. Robotic Researchers Hans Moravec et al discovered this Moravec’s Paradox stating that “it is comparatively easy to make computers exhibit adult level performance on intelligence tests or playing checkers, but difficult to give them the skills of a one-year-old when it comes to perception and mobility.”
- Creativity is another key area, which would be resilient to machines. Brynjolfsson adds “Digital technologies are in many ways complements, not substitutes for, creativity,” Digitalization is becoming huge in form of marketing to create songs,videos and even Art pieces, where technology is used to aid the creative process rather than replace it.
- Interpersonal skills are another major key skills which humans have a better deal at than machines. Being able to nurture, care, motivate and advise people are much effective through human interactions. Hence, Sales assistance, health care workers, nurses, chefs, school teachers, managers, entrepreneurs are just some examples of how humans would be better at than machines.
Brynjolfsson and McAfee state how “the key to winning the race is not to compete against machines but to compete with machines”, Hence using technology as a tool to aid us to progress, rather than to use it to replace the human labor workforce. This sounds like a reasonable argument, especially as technology is not always feasible in some areas of the human labour workforce.
When it comes to talking of employment, the types that are emerging with the ever-evolving technology would surprise one. The increase use and access of smart devices such as mobile phones, tablets and PC’s have broadened our opportunities in various fields of work such as creativity, leisure, personal use etc. The use of Jobs such as Business architect, Data Scientist, Social Media architect, Mobile technology expert, Enterprise mobile developer, cloud architect are just a few of many jobs that did not exist before, all thanks to technological advancements. Living in the 21st century, smart devices enable us to do so much more than the traditional way of working. For e.g. YouTube has become the Internet sensation with millions of people globally uploading videos and getting paid for it, where some even claim it to be their ‘full time profession’.
No doubt that technology will continually evolve in the future and diminish aspects of the human labour workforce, but it will undoubtedly create an array of job opportunities in various industries as well as being unable to replace jobs that are best suited for humans. So the notion that ‘technology destroys more jobs than it creates’ is false. No matter how far technology advances there will always be jobs available for us to do. After all, if humans build technology, they must also operate them.