Machines take away horrible jobs

Quartz had a feature a few days back about the struggles of young women working in tea gardens in North East India. Tough conditions, bad wages and inhuman treatment are features of horrible jobs. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it is likely machines will replace those women within the decade. That should be celebrated because machines take away horrible jobs.

But, it will likely result in political propaganda with politicians promising to bring those jobs back.

Politicians in countries who promise to bring back jobs to their respective countries omit two truths. First, it is that those jobs are not really coming back. A piece of manufacturing that required 1,000 workers is likely best done now with 20 engineers and a collection of robots. Second, when those jobs were around, workers constantly complained of inhuman conditions.

The jobs our politicians want to bring back are never the ones we wake up wanting to do.

In our desire to avoid conversations that matter, it is easy to blame machines. So much easier to do that than to discuss the real issues on the table and so much easier to postpone the inevitable socio-economic disasters that are in the making if we continue to avoid the flip side of technology innovation.

But, for those of us who are willing to see things as they are – machines are going to take away large portions of what we do. Anything we consider repetitive is going to be done by a machine. Anything that requires functions we’re not very good at (searching vast amounts of information, statistical analysis) will be done by machines. We will be freed to do other, better stuff. In the post industrial world, machines in industries freed us to create job titles like ballerinas, violinists and zumba investors. This time will be no different. In having machines replace large parts of what we do, we will go back to answering that all important question – “What should we do with our time?”

The conversations we should be having are all around the question – how do we bring about changes to an economic system that was built on the foundations of an industrial world?

The machines are here to stay. They will continue to take away horrible jobs and, then, horrible pieces of our jobs. Let’s focus on what we need to do to support the many workers who are and will continue to be displaced by the shift.

Audi car factory in Germany – thanks to the Telegraph for the image

HT: The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly