Return of the Luddites


(3/13/2017)

Recent economic studies predict in a decade or two 47 percent of all jobs in America will be lost to automation. According to these warnings, it will not be foreigners and immigrants who will take away the jobs; it will be robots and artificial-intelligence computers that will be the culprits.

We are beginning to hear that if automation takes away all the jobs then nobody will be left to buy the products manufactured by these non-humans.

Companies convert to automation because they are much more efficient, thus producing products at lower cost. Corporations exist to make money and robots will work 24 hours a day, don’t call in sick, or work with a hangover; they don’t demand benefits or vacations; they may break down occasionally but won’t go on strike.

Losing jobs to machinery is nothing new. In the early 1800s English employers began to introduce cotton mills and mechanical weavers that made slower, less efficient human labor a thing of the past. The weavers fought back and began destroying these threatening machines that stole their livelihoods. They only lasted for about five years before the British government without mercy arrested and hanged many of them and sent the rest on one-way tickets to Australia; the movement soon died out. They were called Luddites and ever since anyone who dislikes new technology and opposes automation remains so described.

So what do we tell our children? There are certain truths we can pass on.

There will always be innovations to make what we produce faster, more efficient and profitable. The law of supply and demand has ruled and will rule the marketplace. Automation makes low-skilled labor obsolete, but it also creates employment for educated, highly skilled job seekers. Of course everyone will have to be computer literate to compete.

Human beings will always need food, a roof over their heads, entertainment, and the opportunity to travel, plus medical treatment and education systems to meet these needs.

This year the world population will be 7.5 billion. Farming and supplying food will become critical, as will providing clean, drinkable water. Also cleaning up our oceans, air and land, and utilizing cleaner forms of energy, will all open up myriad job opportunities.

Homes will be smaller as couples postpone marriage and have smaller families. People will need to be able to pick up and leave to go where the job opportunities exist; however, there are predictions that many companies will no longer hire long-term employees, but instead will face problems by contracting independent teams that will charge high fees, but will be highly skilled at knowing the problem, solving it, and then move on to other companies who experience similar problems. It is believed that in the long run such companies will be money ahead. An example would be bringing in and installing robots and then moving on.

Bored people will always seek entertainment, restaurants, traveling, and attending sports events. There is even talk about space station resorts in the sky where travelers will fly up and stay for awhile to view the world below and our cosmos above as they orbit for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Our cars will be electric and self-driven, where we punch in our destination and the computer will take us there. We will also travel in modules inside of tubes with a minimum of friction, between cities at great speeds.

With our population aging and living longer, medical and health care will expand to meet growing demand. Robots are now performing and will expand to perform many routine operations, and fix old, worn-out teeth.

Education will evolve to intensive two-year college courses, and freelance professors will conduct nationwide classes over the internet. Many students will return to college to be trained for new professions as the old fade away.

Historically, prognosticators and Luddites haven’t done well. Examples: World War I was fought to end all wars. Light bulbs will never catch on; radio and television will soon bore people; television will kill the movies; telescopes are limited to the extent we can grind lenses; automobiles are novelties for the rich; airplanes and rockets cannot escape gravity; smoking tobacco is medically good for throats (the T Zone); no reason to have a computer in the home; rock and roll is obnoxious noise that will never last; and children will never read paper print books again (before Harry Potter came along). However, there are some active, modern-day Luddites among us who create computer viruses and malware for no useful purpose other than to obstruct communication and annoy and disrupt our lives.

As they proliferate, most will likely be tracked down and punished, just as the original Luddites were.

 

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