By: Keegan Wagner
This happened with nearly every instance of technological advancement, and job loss is always a concern that accompanies new inventions. However, something that many people forget is that with these new inventions, they create as many, if not more, jobs as they make obsolete. For example, the introduction of the car put many horseshoe makers, stable hands, and horse trainers out of their jobs, but soon they found new jobs making vehicle parts and repairing cars.
As more advanced technology developed, it allowed people to become more specialized in their careers. Before the Industrial Revolution, most people were either farmers or some type of craftsman - the position of ‘Administrative Director of Software Engineering’ was not even a fathomable idea. By allowing technology to fill the need for repetitive and mundane labor, people have become more educated and specialized in various fields, furthering opportunities for advancing in society.
This equilibrium of job creation and obsolescence has existed for a long time, but it appears that the tides are changing. Today, technology is advancing faster than ever before, and the rise of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is limiting the amount of jobs being created.
Previously, machines were made for one job, often something that was simple and repetitive, as machines are very good at simple, precise, and repetitive tasks. Now, A.I. allows for a new dimension to machines: the ability to learn.
This is revolutionary for a multitude of reasons, but primarily because machines can now perform a diverse range of tasks, and become very efficient at those tasks without the need for refinement by humans. In fact, these machines can learn so fast that they can achieve peak efficiency of a certain task faster than a human can learn how to do the task in the first place. In addition to this, machines can learn how to create copies of themselves, completely eliminating the need for humans at all.
It can be hard to comprehend how this exists in today’s world because of the way technology and A.I. is portrayed in media, and a good example of these advancements comes in the form of the Roomba, an automated vacuum cleaner produced by iRobot.
The Roomba travels around the consumer’s house, vacuuming as it goes. It has physical sensors that detect when it runs into an object, and over time it will map and learn the layout of the house. It then uses this map to vacuum in the most efficient way possible. While it is a small example, and the trial-and-error method of data collection is primitive, the proof of concept is still there.
A more advanced example is the development of self-driving cars that use vast amounts of visual and satellite data to determine actions, though this technology still needs refinement because trial-and-error is not ideal with human occupants. But considering that cell phones were popularized only 20 years ago, the existence of fully autonomous vehicles is something to behold.
On the other hand, this new technology threatens the jobs of many blue collar workers that likely don’t have the skill or education to switch into programming. With the rise of self-driving cars, truck drivers are at risk of losing their livelihoods, and this becomes worse when acknowledging that they already exist in constant surveillance thanks to new systems that track their driving time and time efficiency.
This isn’t an isolated transportation issue either, as people employed in the farming industry have to compete with high-tech drone monitoring systems that calculate things like the exact pH of the soil, and the optimal time for spreading fertilizer. Workers in the construction and engineering industries must compete with systems that can create entire 3D modeled blueprints based on a handful of measurements and constraints. Even more dynamic fields like education are at risk with the prominence of teaching programs that can quickly adapt to student learning styles, and provide course content in a more digestible format.
Two questions ultimately remain: Will society adapt to these new changes and continue to create new jobs? Or is the job market experiencing a permanent shift away from human labor?