Automation will force us to change views on unemployment

As humans we have unjustly attributed inferiority and brought moral judgement upon many undeserving groups. People of different race, gender, religion, culture, preference, beliefs, sexuality; all these and more have suffered under the weight of prejudice and stigma. And we like to think we’re at least getting better.

“Sure,” we might tell ourselves, “we’re not perfect yet. But we’re moving towards there. We’re having conversations and bringing these problems to light. We are addressing it.”

Yet, even though these conversations are good and necessary things, even as we try to improve, we are overlooking an immense systematic persecution, so large and “acceptable” that it is practically invisible: the persecution of the poor, homeless and unemployed.

“Not true!” a small part of us screams when confronted with this accusation. “I donate to the homeless shelter at Christmas. I help out with Habitat for Humanity.”

And yet we also treat panhandlers with a mixture of fear and disgust. We don’t want the poor and destitute “invading” the places we frequent or the neighborhoods we live in. We actually applaud cities that build benches that are impossible to sleep on in parks. And though we may occasionally assist a charity, how often do we do it without some hidden satisfaction of being, somehow, “better” than those pitiful creatures we claim to help?

“Oh, they’re not educated enough.” We try to excuse these prejudices by pointing out some perceived inadequacy. “They are lazy, don’t work hard enough. They’re incompetent, addicted, miscreant, criminal, worthless, junkies.”

They are not.

This is the dark side of the American dream. We believe if we just work hard enough, do enough, try hard enough, we can be successful. Our success, we like to imagine, is our own. Failure, then, must be the fault of the failed.

And nowhere is this disgusting kind of capitalist morality found than in “employment.” It’s politics season again, and I can guarantee that you have heard lots of people talking about “creating jobs,” or “boosting employment.”

A lot of the reason this is so important to people is that we consider some large part of a person’s value to be encapsulated in their job.

Yet equating goodness to employment is false. There is nothing about going to some place to earn money that makes a person good, worthy or valuable.

Having a job means that a person can contribute to their community and have value that way, right? Wrong. Having a normal job is far from the only way that we contribute to our community. It isn’t even one of the most important ways we benefit our communities. How many jobs are a greater benefit to a community than they are a benefit to a company?

Let me inform you of one huge reason you should care about this: there are going to be fewer “jobs” in the future. Computers, robots, on-demand freelancers and automatization are on the verge of killing thousands of jobs.

Consider the transportation industry, which moves millions of tons of people and goods a week. Google cars, hyper-loops, Uber and more could replace the millions of people driving our cars, trucks, planes and trains within a decade.

Cheap robotics are bringing manufacturing back to North America, yes, but they’re not going to be hiring hundreds of people to work in these new factories. Try dozens. Automated call directing programs are replacing secretaries. Artificial intelligence chat bots are replacing sales representatives. Big data and algorithms are replacing marketing professionals. Machine learning is getting better than humans at diagnosing illnesses. Japan has robots replacing nurses.

New machines and materials are constantly cutting down the number of humans necessary at construction sites. Your brochure can be generated by a computer. WATSON (the computer that won Jeopardy) can create a brand new recipe based on what you have in your fridge.

How many of you even talk to a clerk at a grocery store? (Oh and by the way, if Target has its way, the only humans in a Target ten years from now will be customers.)

Folks, as our population increases and the number of jobs that can’t be done more cheaply and better by computers decreases, more people will become not only unemployed but unemployable.

So, we’re going to have to get over this backward capitalist morality that equates human value to wealth and employment status or we’re going to have problems.

Post Author: tucollegian

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