If humans get the sack, does it mean a life of leisure or struggle?
Technology: it’s one of our biggest assets, and also one of our biggest threats. Could a world dominated by technology destroy our working class? Or could it open the door to a new way of living?
There are two types of technology, self-service (SSTs) and entertainment. Entertainment technology is your tv or phone, music and gaming, anything that serves the pleasure principle. This type of tech is of no threat to us. Self-service tech on the other hand, is specifically designed to serve a constant purpose, to work. This can be found on the production lines, in self-serve check-outs, even on the roads.
Technology as we know it is a convenience enterprise, it’s a format that enables a better standard of life. But soon it may ensure a life of struggle for many of the working class. It admittedly sounds like something out of science fiction, robots are taking over the world. I’m not implying that, at all. AI is far away from being an independent entity. I’m talking about machines programmed with code that can and will take millions of human jobs. That too may sound a bit farfetched but whether you realise it or not, it’s already taking place.
I first noticed it in my local supermarket when self-service checkouts were implemented. Still today self-serve checkouts are not a flawless system, they are slow, temperamental and at times incredibly frustrating. However the fact remains that one checkout replaces five human jobs, employing just one human to keep them operational.
Since then I have been taking notice on the types of jobs being replaced by robots. And the frequency at which they do. Here are just a few jobs that have been completely or partially replaced by robots. Bank tellers, bowling ball pinsetters, mail sorters. Travel agents, film projectionist, phone operators. These may seem like trivial examples but they serve the purpose of illustrating my point before I get into the bigger jobs.
Self-service tech is convenient not only for the customers but for the company managers that employ them. The bottom line is that machines and robots are cheaper than their human counterparts, they have the ability to work 24/7, they don’t argue or need pay benefits, they make fewer errors and can work at a rate much faster than humans.
The biggest industry to get hit by the technological transition is production. Millions of working class citizens work on production lines building, packaging, delivering. Thousands of companies have already made the transition to autonomous workers. The Changying Precision Technology Company in China has set up a factory almost solely run by machines. Before the transition the company employed 650 human workers, now they only employ 60 to maintain the machines. Using robotic arms and automated machine equipment the company is pumping out three times the amount of product as they did previously, as well as the defect rate dropping from 25% to below 5%.
The case is similar for thousands of other manufacturing companies.
In America the manufacturing output has soared with autonomous machines and robots aiding in producing an output 47% greater than the last quarter.
There are currently over 2.5 million industrial robots employed in factories and warehouses around the wold. According to the American National Bureau of Economics each new robot added to the workforce reduces human employment by 5.6 workers as well as cutting their wages by 0.25% per 1000 humans.
Packing and manufacturing are the first of billion-dollar enterprises to undergo this transition, I believe the next big industry to be hit is transport. Now I’m delving into the realm of self-driving cars so bear with me as I explain this futuristic concept and be awear that they are already a reality. The transport industry is huge. In 2014 the Australian trucking industry reported an industry revenue of $700 billion. And that’s just trucks. Transport also includes, taxis, delivery via air, sea and land. Freight train delivery, commuter buses, trams and trains, sight-seeing transport. Needless to say, the transportation industry employs millions of people in Australia, and million more worldwide. Over the period of 2003-2015 Safe work Australia recorded that 65% of worker fatalities involved vehicles, of which over 40% were due to a vehicle collision on a public road. In 2015 alone 47% of all work-related fatalities occurred within the transport industry.
If perfected, self-driving cars could be the answer to reducing deaths within the industry and saving millions of dollars. Sweden and Germany already have self-driving cars on their roads, and countries like Singapore, Greece, Amsterdam, England, Switzerland and China are all aiming to commercialise them by 2020.
Technology is advancing at a faster rate than ever before, it’s getting more sophisticated. The technologically utopian future depicted in films like Blade runner and Tomorrowland may be closer than we think. Soon thousands of other companies and industries will utilise such tech in favour of human workers. Why wouldn’t they? It’s cheaper, arguably safer and frees us humans to do the more enjoyable jobs, right?
Well it’s hard to guess what the future holds, if the vast majority of human jobs get replaced by robots does it leave humans to a life of leisure, what will happen to our income? One answer is Universal basic income. Essentially the government pays you a certain amount each month or year for you to survive on. But there are many flaws with such a concept, and it currently doesn’t seem like a viable option. Someone has to pay taxes, right?
The next 5-10 years will see millions of humans replaced by robots, I personally believe there will always be jobs that require humans like child care, teaching, writing, creating music. Essentially, I think the vast majority of us will transition into creative outlets which can benefit us all as a society. I cannot be certain of this however and the prospect its daunting. Still, I am excited to see this transition take place. We are in fact far from a tech utopia and things are certain to get worse before they get better. But as we advance as a species we will encounter new opportunities and new adventures. No one can know what looms in the horizon, good or bad it will most defiantly be something very different to what has ever in history been.