We’ve got global warming, Islamic terrorism, and a host of issues to worry about, but one probably not on most personal radar screens is the increasing disappearance of jobs due to technology.
Most under-20s don’t have any remembrance of full service gas stations; everyone now just accepts that we pump it ourselves. Wally World, Kroger, many major retail operations now have rows of self service checkout lanes. Farming, once one of the most labor-intensive of occupations, continues rapidly adopting technology that has eliminated many thousands of jobs; robotic farm machinery will further that decline.
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Manufacturing — from automobiles to candy bars — widely employs robots and other automation. Robotic devices are in most hospital ORs, assisting in complex surgeries. Even McDonald’s is on the bandwagon, with more than 7,000 electronic “cashiers” in its stores across Europe; touch-screen ordering is replacing humans. Tests are under way at a few U.S. locations, and you can bet the number will rapidly increase.
As technology becomes ever more sophisticated, the trend escalates: fewer and fewer people are needed to do many of today’s jobs.
An article in Atlantic magazine by Derek Thompson explores the possibility that in the near future, much of the work will be done by non-humans. In “A World Without Work”, he says some economists and technologists see a rapid expansion of technological capabilities, while human capabilities remain much the same, and ask, “Is any job truly safe?” If the answer is no, what will be the sociological, economic, cultural, and other impacts in a world that doesn’t need nearly so many workers?
The article notes that the share of U.S. economic growth paid in wages is now at the lowest level since the government started keeping track in the mid-20th century. The share of prime age Americans who are working has been trending down since 2000, and real wages of college graduates have dropped 7.7 percent. The most common jobs now are salesperson, cashier, food/beverage server, and office clerk — all highly susceptible to automation.
Researchers say machines might be able to do half of all U.S. jobs within two decades. How the nation and the world will deal with this may be one of our greatest challenges.