Convenience at What Cost?: Technological Replacement of Human Labor as Economic and Structural Violence
Technology has afforded us many conveniences and increased access to mainly everything from social interactions to fast food. In regards to the workplace, it has helped us reduce our environmental impact with the conversion from paper to digital. In addition, apps and software have allowed us to automate our processes, essentially eliminating the need for certain positions.
While we enjoy the comfort and advantages technology has brought, it would be catastrophic to ignore the continuous detrimental impacts it has had and continues to have on low to mid skill job markets. With the growing demand for a livable minimum wage and pressure on corporations to implement environmental sustainability measures as well as racial and gender justice support within their hiring and workplace practices, many corporations are beginning to instead, transition to a more technology based workforce instead of addressing the inherent oppression laced within their business model.
Its Already Happening
The bay area tech company, Uber recently released their self-driving car that is already stirring up discord in San Francisco. The company states that they hope this self driving car will replace up to 17,000 drivers by the end of 2017.
Fortunately, Uber did not receive adequate permits from the state of California and their cars have been pulled from the roads. For now. We know that this is only temporary as they have already headed to Arizona to pilot their program. The question here is how will the laid off drivers who have been fighting to unionize find adequate work in a job market that is increasingly competitive? Never mind the self-driving big rigs, The Verge, that are set to hit the roads in the next year.
Amazon, the multi-marketplace, online giant is also a culprit in the slow but steady disenfranchisement of the human labor market. The company just announced their first grocery store, Amazon Go that contains no checkout stands. Yes, no cashiers, no self-check out only a simple barcode that allows customers to scan their items and exit. There are nearly 35,000 groceries in the united states supplying nearly 3 million jobs according the Department of Labor. As the demand for minimum wage increases, as well as the wholesale cost of food items, will grocery stores be pressured into adopting Amazons model? In addition, what about those who don’t have the smartphone technology necessary to use this app?
Introduced first by NASA and now spearheaded by Moley, Shadow Hands is a robotics technology that features a pair of robot hands that can cook up to 2,000 meals a day. It includes functions for chopping, stirring, temperature control and more. This could effectively replace the growing demand for human labor within restaurant industry that sees nearly 5,000 new restaurants open a year with over 1.7 million jobs added to the market.
Unfortunately, the increasing number of race and gender based abuses within the industry including wage theft and threats of violence if workers try to unionize have been exposed by the Restaurant Opportunity center. Their extensive research only further detail what this industry could potentially look like within the next 5 years.
Unemployment and Violence
Of course, the end result of this over dependence upon technology use is an increase in unemployment on a massive scale.
The problem that these companies do not foresee or factor into their schemes for increased capital are the increased demands this will have on the social service systems and the unfathomable levels of violence the unemployment will trigger. According to research coming from the University of London, unemployment among males is directly linked to domestic violence. In addition, communities with high levels of collective unemployment experience higher prevalence of social ills such as homelessness. gang violence, homicide and more.
Corporate Accountability vs. Responsibility
In order to alleviate the coming blow these workforce technologies will have on low-mid skilled workers and their respective communities, it is imperative that policy makers treat this as a public health concern and implement the appropriate measures. This includes but is not limited to:
Transition plan: providing templates corporations can use to ease their transition in order to prepare the system with enough time and resources to create alternatives.
Corporate Accountability Tax: lawmakers should make haste in developing tax and fee schedules that address the cost burden upon the state when an individual is unemployed. This could be an annual tax or even a fund that is created to support individuals in developing their own collectives and enterprises with each other.
Regulation of Technologies: Lawmakers should also regulate the safety performance of these technologies. Since they are new and innovative with little research, we must be prepared for the flaws and glitches inherent in all technologies.
Expansion of human driven workforces: government systems and organizations focused on promoting workforce development should provide low-mid skilled workers with the tools necessary to participate in workforces that can never be replaced with technology, this includes healthcare, agriculture and education to name a few.
In conclusion, the shift from human labor to technology on behalf of corporations is only another sad symptom of uncontrollable greed and capitalism. With the immense loss of jobs, we can be sure to see a rise in inter-communal violence, homelessness and many more social ills. It is imperative that policymakers hold these companies accountable for the impacts their decisions have on already vulnerable workers. The violence and increase in social ills cannot be fully prevented but it can be alleviated if action is taken NOW.