100 Days of 100 Words: Day 13, In Support of The Future that was Promised

I ran across this article on Gizmodo today titled “Bullshit Article About Bullshit Automation Promises Bullshit Life of Leisure”. It’s a subject that came up this morning in a conversation with a coworker because the prediction of automation helping workers work less has happened again and again. Technology has made massive leaps in the last 50–100 years but it hasn’t helped people work less hours because, as the articles states, “gains in productivity didn’t go to workers. They went to the owners of the businesses”. What does that mean? To this point, advances in technology have allowed people to be more productive and increase the margins of business owners while putting some people out of jobs. As technology continues to advance, every job becomes a more and more likely candidate for automation. NPR wrote these articles in recent years, among others, and has a tool to let you know what the odds are that your job will be automated in the next 20 years.

One of the biggest pieces of technology on the horizon is the self driving vehicle. There are already self driving cars being used for rideshare services and there will be self driving trucks on the road in the near future. That second one is a REALLY big deal. According to the American Trucking Association, 3.5 million truck drivers were employed in 2015. That’s 3.5 million people who are potentially out of a job and that’s just one industry! Should someone who has been a truck driver for their career be unable to support themselves and their family because of an advance in technology? In the past, adding some automation and losing some jobs might not have been such a big deal. There were more manufacturing jobs available in America and they paid good wages. But the United States has lost 6 million manufacturing jobs in the 25 years leading up to 2011. And now, as technology continues to advance, more and more of those opportunities will be taken by machines or simply smarter and smarter software programs. That’s a key difference as machines continue to get more intricate, more capable, and flat out “smarter” because of advances in many parts of technology like computing power, machine learning, and AI.

But this situation is not without a silver lining. It offers society as a whole an opportunity. If we can change the way we think about work to “earn a living”, or even reconsider the idea of needing to work, we can realize the future we’ve always wanted. It’s a future we’ve been promised for a long time in which we work less and enjoy more free time. What’s so magical about the number 40 and why must everyone work that amount, or more, every week? I’d wager that you probably don’t have a good answer for that question.