The case against job automation never made any sense to me, and it’s always made by people who are afraid their skills will become irrelevant, as machines and software are built that can perform jobs better and faster than any human can.
I can’t think of a more selfish act than being against economic progress so that one can continue to get paid to do a job less efficiently than it could otherwise be performed by someone else–or something else. Somehow, those against job automation are never as eager to discuss progress made in the past that has undoubtedly had a positive impact on society, despite the same kind of fear-mongering they participate in today.
Inventing better and faster ways to do things allows us to spend less time focusing on some jobs and leaves us with more time to dedicate to others that cannot be automated.
The Internet is a great example of an invention that has had a tremendous impact on everyone, while at the same time making certain jobs, like that of a librarian, less relevant.
If a machine could be created tomorrow with the ability to build a house in half the time, and at half the cost, would you be for it, even if it means less jobs would be available for construction workers, plumbers and painters? Before you answer that, don’t forget that this machine’s existence would also mean cheaper houses for consumers, and jobs for those who build, fix, improve, and sell the machines.
This is precisely the problem with the logic employed by opponents of job automation. They always seem to ignore the people whose lives are improved, and focus only on those who they wish to protect because they no longer offer the best possible way to perform a job.
And what is a job anyway? Is it not a function that needs to be performed? Do we get paid by our employers because we happen to need money, or do we get paid because we offer a needed service? If the service we happen to provide were ever to become useless, how can we honestly claim that the whole world should do things less efficiently just so that we can continue to make money doing what we want to do?
Should we take seriously the librarian who tells the world they should stop using the Internet for research purposes, so that the service she provides can again become useful? What about the people who work in cancer research? Should we be making sure a real cure for cancer never sees the light of day so that we may protect thousands from losing their jobs?
Even those who work in technology are affected by improvements in the industry. A Software Engineer who refuses to keep his skills up to date by learning the latest programming languages would soon find himself unemployable. If we want to get paid to do a job, then we must be able to perform the job that is needed, not the job that we like.
Automation allows for goods to be produced cheaper, benefiting consumers by increasing their standard of living. By spending less money on these products, consumers have more money to spend on other goods, which causes workers in those other industries to also benefit.
It should never be considered a negative that we have the ability to come up with better and faster ways to do things. I know that looking at it this way does not do much for those who are negatively impacted in the short term, but what is the alternative? Think about all the jobs computers have made less relevant and ask yourself whether you’d be willing to give up on all the progress we’ve made.
Those who need jobs need to adapt to changes in the job market not the other way around.