Is technology replacing jobs?

March 9, 2017
Unintended consequences of automation are coming home to roost

My sixth-grade girlfriend was the best. Her name was Anne. I would never meet anyone else as great as she was. I was already planning to get married to her.

Well, do you know how that ended? I never saw her in high school, or ever again actually. What we believe in when we are young is never what we experience as we age. It’s funny how that happens. Oh my, how things change.

So, automation is 50 years old. Is it mature? Absolutely. And now we have the benefit of hindsight of those 50 years. To me—and don’t forget my career is automation—I fear the unintended consequences are coming home to roost.

President Trump wants to bring product manufacturing back to the United States. We already know that this doesn’t mean jobs; it means productivity. So, our love affair with automation, just like mine with Anne, may be over. What I mean by that is maybe it should be over. Maybe we have reached the point of diminishing returns.

I watched an episode of “20/20,” the news documentary program. It told a story of a few people who have to work multiple jobs in order to support their families. One gentleman takes four hours to get to work, and of course four hours back. He cannot afford accommodations any closer to his job.

So, the job he used to have—the one that he could walk to—doesn’t exist anymore. The plant moved.

Trump wants to bring back jobs, so people can be respected within their own households, which is a main thread of all the families profiled in the “20/20” program. One other thing came through loud and clear.

All of the multiple-job individuals worked at a fast-food outlet as one of their jobs. They aren’t necessarily proud of that fact, but they do what they have to do. Gifted-program university professors at institutions that charge $50,000 a year for tuition don’t pay these teachers enough to have a living wage.

A minimum wage of 15 bucks can make a difference in people’s lives, but, at that wage level, companies will move to kiosks to replace counter people. This kind of automation is a “disaster,” to quote the president. So, as we march forward, with wages improving, companies in the quest of quarterly profits will throw their people under the bus to get that bonus.

However, Facebook, Apple and Google have improved the lives of many of their lower-skilled service workers by increasing their wages and not using Roomba to clean the floors—a good start to rebuilding human pride and confidence in the working class.

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini says most people think only 18% of U.S. corporations are considered good. However, Bertolini has taken the Facebook approach of empowering his people to build pride again and bring back what was lost, so consider this: Automation takes jobs from people who are not able to find another job because they don’t have the skills. And the fast-food industry isn’t a viable option. The businesses that throw these people to the street do nothing to help.

Now, consider that the banking industry has expanded the number of tellers at their branches because they have built more branches. They embraced automation such as ATMs, which meant lost jobs in the short term, but they also realized they had much more money to provide better customer service, so they put that money back into their businesses by providing construction jobs, management positions and teller employment to the tune of 100,000 teller jobs since 2000.

Do companies have a social responsibility to the people they employ and serve? I believe they do and they must. I get the bottom line, but a populace that despises them as a business can’t be good.

So, France is considering taxing the use of robotics. Logistically speaking, the EU is leaning toward a universal income for those that aren’t working or in fact can’t work due to their skill sets. Taxing the use of automation is good here since that money can be used to fund the universal income for families, hoping of course that this is what would happen.

We have a 20-year education and skills gap that needs to be filled. My grandkids will need STEM resources to fill this gap, and it may need to happen sooner, but it needs to happen.

Automation should now be considered as a productivity tool, not a job replacement tool. We have to be more responsible. Why have a populous that can’t afford the products and services being offered? Just because it can be automated doesn’t mean it should be, especially if it means being less of a social employer.

We knew this would happen 40 years ago. Things must change. And, sorry, Anne. I would have made a great husband.

About the author
About the Author

Jeremy Pollard | CET

Jeremy Pollard, CET, has been writing about technology and software issues for many years. Pollard has been involved in control system programming and training for more than 25 years.

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