Port of LA longshoremen protest plan to increase automation at one terminal
“Automation is not good for the community, it’s not good for America,” Mendoza said. “We’re talking hundreds of thousands of jobs that are at risk here.”
It’s always the same thing, fear and uneducated fear for the short-term, not caring about what the medium to long-term benefits are. Yes, people lose their jobs when automation comes in, but automation always created way more jobs than it destroyed. At every sector, when automation appears in the horizon workers go up in arms and when society gives in to the fear, society loses by and large and those who don’t fear the change always come up on top. Let’s look at some numbers, shall we?
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of cutting-edge technologies. From contactless cashiers to welding drones to “chow bots” — machines that serve up salads on demand — automation is fundamentally transforming, rather than merely touching, every aspect of daily life. This prospect may well please consumers. Forsaking human folly for algorithmic (and mechanistic) perfection means better, cheaper, and faster service.
But what should workers — who once provided these services — expect? Can they also benefit from technological progress? If so, how?
The labor market impact of technology is often viewed through the lens of job creation or job destruction. Economists — with near ubiquity — treat technology as being either labor displacing or labor reinstating. If technology displaces workers, jobs are lost. If technology creates (or reinstates) work, jobs are created. Under this dichotomy, the key question is whether technology creates more jobs than it destroys. The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2025, technology will create at least 12 million more jobs than it destroys, a sign that in the long run, automation will be a net positive for society.
Technology’s job boosting ability is often touted by tech advocates. Take Waymo, the Google backed startup developing driverless taxis. In recent years, the company’s sensor-laden, white minivans have become a common sight in some American suburbs. However, mobility sans driver raises concerns about job losses. What will otherwise would-be cab (or more likely Uber and Lyft) drivers now do? Waymo’s response? Take up new jobs created by self-driving technology, gigs like self-driving fleet technicians, rider support operators, and software engineers. “We can be helpful as a company that creates jobs,” noted one Waymo exec.
In some sectors – including medicine, education and professional services – technology has raised productivity and employment has risen at the same time, says the report.
“Easy access to information and the accelerating pace of communication have revolutionised most knowledge-based industries,” say the authors. At the same time, rising incomes have raised demand for professional services.
For example, the 1871 census records that there were 9,832 accountants in England and Wales and that has risen twentyfold in the last 140 years to 215,678.
Technological progress has cut the prices of essentials, such as food, and the price of bigger household items such as TVs and kitchen appliances. The real price of cars in the UK has halved in the last 25 years, notes Stewart.
That leaves more money to spend on leisure, and creates new demand and new jobs, perhaps explaining the big rise in bar staff, he adds.
“Despite the decline in the traditional pub, census data shows that the number of people employed in bars rose fourfold between 1951 and 2011,” the report says.