As an aspiring roboticist, it worries me greatly to see the unprecedented loss of opportunity due to automation.
Automation has begun to seep into a variety of m
manufacturing and shipping fields, and is projected to make millions of jobs redundant in the coming decade.
According to the Washington Times, the years following NAFTA saw an increase of nearly 23.5m US manufacturing jobs. However, since 2000, there has been a loss of nearly 5.6m, all in the face of a record high manufacturing output in 2007 (which dropped following the Great Recession), that is on the rise again.
This increased productivity in the face of millions of lost jobs undeniably due to the rapidly growing efficiency of automation. Take welding, for instance, as the Financial Times reports an average salary of $25 per hour per worker with benefits as opposed to a machine that costs $8 an hour to run.
Unfortunately, as we continue to develop technology, it will not only begin to saturate areas it presently resides in, but continue to spread to a wider range of industries. Google’s self driving car has already met some rallied resistance from truck drivers, according to the New York Times, for fear of the automation of hundreds of thousands of jobs.
How, then, is it justifiable to continue to fund research in an area that will have immediate and detrimental consequences to the American workforce?
When answering this question, I feel it is important to understand that automation technology will continue regardless of legislature or any other attempts to spur its progress. In the words of Richard Feynman, “To every man I is given a key to unlock the gates of heaven. That same key opens the gates of hell. And so it is with science.”
To extend the analogy, we are being forced upon us a key, and it is not our responsibility to decide whether or not we want it, but what we should do with it.
That is to say that automation is representative of a change, though not necessarily a bad one. Here, we are faced with a drastic shift in the way we work and handle joblessness, as well as produce things.
The obvious upside is that services, goods, and products will all become cheaper and of higher quality. Robots have shown increased efficiency and accuracy everywhere from Amazon’s stock rooms to pharmacies.
The more significant change that will likely come about is a push toward universal basic income. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, SolarCity, and Tesla, has begun to integrate greater levels of automation into his factories. In doing so, according to Fortune, argues that this will inevitably lead to universal basic income (UBI), a humanitarian step forward.
UBI, while debatably beneficial, is just one example of a myriad of solutions that automation will drive us towards. Movements towards UBI are not important in their own right, but because they indicate a more general trend towards alternative systems of provision.
That is the real value in automation. It is a driving force of change that will force us toward more sustainable systems of income, regardless of what you feel they should be.
It will be our responsibility not to create legislature that delays the introduction of automation to preserve an outdated system, but to create and install a new one that is both just and incentivizing.