Is machinery the end of a lot of careers?

The change in recent years has been dramatic; from the Internet to devices that are evolving daily, such as smartphones, not to mention scientific advances. This speed has displaced humans and now machines, robots, software are those who do the work for them. In response, the Associated Press has conducted a comparison of before and after in our lives with technology. Let’s name some of these changes:

  • Not a long time ago, there were no cell phones yet, only home phone numbers. A little earlier, there were operators Machinery dispacing humans working for telephone connections. When in 1951 operators were essential for communication, now the phones already have a virtual personal assistant. This is how those operators, for example in United States, have fallen from 182.000 to 73.000 in a decade.
  • In factories, ‘human labor’ seems to be less and less necessary, for machines, such as robots, do the job as well. Now, employees only monitor such devices and the payroll of the employees has declined markedly. Before you could see, for example in Germany, men working in a car factory, nowadays besides the car there is another machine working on it, replacing the people.
  • The areas of technology began with large appliances, then reduced the sizes, but attendance of people was needed in order to operate the machines. Today it is not essential to be there. Everything is fully automated and there is no longer a need for a human presence.
  • People are no longer needed even to drive a train, because now the lines are automated. Like, for example the train in Tokyo, Yurikamome. They put even the planes on autopilot.
  • There is no requirement for face to face assistance, because there are machines that can give us a completely personalized service.
  • The postmen were entirely phased out by e-mail. Today, they only deliver mail that has to do with banks or legal issues, but for the friendly communication between people it is rarely used conventional mail.
  • The secretaries, despite of how many they are, increasingly appear to be less required. In the United States, more than 1.1 million secretaries disappeared from the labor market between 2000, and 2010. Their work was replaced by hundreds of devices and applications that help you remember dates, enter appointments, phones and more. For the past few years some of them work as a freelance as virtual assistant, but there work nowadays it’s totally different.
  • Travel agents also reduced their staff, it is now easier and more accessible to get all kind of date through internet, like buying tickets, choose the destinations and places of accommodation. We have sites like Trivago and Booking that help us make our decision and provides us with the best possible arrangement.
  • The libraries have also been somewhat abandoned because of all the digital books that are offered and the infinite information online; while librarians are also increasingly less and less and could even disappear. As an example, the State University of North Carolina presented a library known as bookbots, where a robot finds the books you are looking without the necessity for a librarian. There are even wending machines where you can place an order and your book comes right down.
  • People that charge tolls on highways are replaced by electronic cards. Now you pay for a vignette and you can travel through Europe without the need to stop at every other pay toll and pay again and again.

That is how millions of jobs, from the middle class, have been lost in development countries around the world. But the fear that the machines will end up with the work performed by men and therefore their livelihood, is as old as the industry itself. In the early nineteenth century, the English workers were organized in one of the first labor movements, the Luddite, whose main aim was to end machines, they thought, were responsible for layoffs and low wages. In 1812, a group of workers in Nottingham burned sixty stocking knitting machines, an action that precedes in decades the creation of unions and first strikes. We could believe that this fear of technology, or at least of the idea that their progress can be a problem for workers and, in general, to society, is a thing of the past. But we would be wrong, The Luddite is still very present. And it has more arguments than ever in history.

A report released in 2014 by the prestigious Pew Research Center, which features the opinion of 1800 academics and experts in industry, labor and new technologies, show that professionals are divided in assessing the impact of progress in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics that will have on the labor market. While many agree to accept that by 1025, robots will take care of many of our work, ideas about the impact this will have on our future as a society are very different. Half of the study participants believe that machines will end with the majority of jobs in 2025, and only the manual ones; the other half believes the advancement of robotics, however, will create more work than take.

The Luddites think that Automation is like Voldemort. 48% of respondents in the report are concerned about the proliferation of machines in all professional sectors. They say that for the first time the advancement of technology, that by now had only affected blue-collar jobs, will affect also white-color. Everything that can be automated will be automated, experts are saying. The rise of robotics will cause a huge increase in inequality, the long-term unemployment and, ultimately, a breakdown of social order. For example, the automation is Voldemort, a terrible force that nobody dares to name. The only sectors that might escape the rise of robotics are those that require local human effort (gardeners, babysitters, painters…), distant human sectors (editors, coordinators, organizers, coaches…) and higher management level positions. The rest will be replaced by automation, according to this group. Those jobs that will survive will be worse payed and more temporary than we have now. And the middle class will sink.

The experts that are techno optimists think that there won’t be fewer things to do. 52% of the experts that participated in the report believe that technology and machinery will not end more jobs that can create in the next decade. Many agree that the future jobs won’t be the same: indeed, robots will kill many of the professions that we know today, but mankind will be able to find new productive niches, as happened in previous industrial revolutions. Others are more skeptical and simply believe that technology will not advance much, so we won’t have to worry about the future of our jobs in the next decade. The history shows that technology creates jobs, it doesn’t destroy them. If the robots end some jobs, they will create many more. "When the world’s population was 100 million, people had 100 million jobs”, says a Microsoft researcher, Jonatan Grudin. Although robots finish with some manual work, someone will have to develop and manufacture the robots and this will create a huge niche of skilled labor (engineers and programmers) and unskilled (assemblers) jobs. The jobs will change, but not necessary to worse. Some sectors will require more workers, now more than ever we need army of talented programmers to assist in advancing technology – but at the same time we need people to do the packages, assemblies, sales, communication… Another thing, there will be jobs that only humans can do. While more experts agree that the rise of robotics cause a radical change in our work, there are those that assure that some professions will not be at all affected by it, because they can never be automated. Probably in the same way as planes need to have pilots and copilots, not all cars that ate auto piloted can function unmanned. The ability of humans to detect unexpected events and take emergency measures without relying on automatic driving will still be required to follow while there are individual cars on the road. The professions that requires creativity, synthesis, problem solving, innovation… cannot be replaced. Robots in fact, will help to get rid of the most tedious task so we can devote to other things. The technological advances allow people to stop doing monotonous tasks and invest their energy on things they can make a difference.

Finally, perhaps, the most important and difficult to predict it’s to which extent machines will be complementary or alternative work and for what types of work. To date, artificial intelligence has been able to meet many routine jobs, but hasn’t been able to replace many jobs in the services sector whose relative weight in employment has grown. It is easy to imagine a future where machines produce other products, but can they take care of a child, an elderly or teach? It is very likely that the emergence of more powerful computing ways involves the emergence of new occupations now unimaginable involving new sources of employment. Who will benefit?


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