Living With Technology / Will Computers Put Us Out of Work?
If I read the news correctly, it seems that computers are putting more people out of work than creating jobs.
Does that mean that we’ll all be out of jobs in the future?
Technology has clearly changed the jobs that people do. This has happened for thousands of years.
At one time, the world was an agrarian society. More people were farmers than lived in cities. That means that more than 50% of all people were farmers or ranchers. Technology (among other things) has made farming more efficient. The introduction of tractors to replace an animal-drawn plow was a huge technological shift.
Factories used to be all manual labor. Many factories are now either fully or nearly fully automated so they’re turning out more products at less cost than when people did the bulk of the work.
More currently, artificial intelligence and other technologies are affecting work such as reading X-rays, reviewing contracts and even driving cars.
It’s clear to me that most of the jobs from 100 or more years ago have undergone dramatic changes, if they even still exist.
What once seemed like untouchable white collar or professional jobs such as lawyers and doctors are also being affected through technology.
But new jobs are also being created. In particular, jobs in the technology space continue to grow. And as technology is used in fields such as medicine and law, we still need very good people to tell the computers what to do and how to learn from the information being gathered.
Note that the fear of technology ruining the workforce is not new. Ever since machines have been involved in the workforce, predictions of the demise of the worker have been made.
Yet in every instance I am aware of, the introduction of technology has changed or eliminated some jobs and created new ones. In many ways, technology has taken on the tedious or dangerous roles as well as been able to do repetitive work much faster than people.
I haven’t seen reliable numbers on whether technology is eliminating more jobs than it is creating, but I do see that as a possible situation at some point.
I do see that humans do like to be engaged in activities, whether mental or physical and if jobs computers do well free up people to do other things, I believe people will come up with new and innovative ways to occupy themselves. These new ways could be for a business or leisure.
My biggest challenge is to help people I know - including my children - determine what careers to pursue. It’s clear that how I spent my adult years will not be what they see in their adult lives. What I do believe is important is that they have skills at least one - hopefully more - area, are able to adapt to a changing landscape and are motivated.
I believe there will always be opportunities for people with skills and drive.
Mark Mathias is a 35+ year information technology executive and a resident of Westport, Connecticut. His columns can be read on the Internet at http://blog.mathias.org. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.