Robots, schmobots. The Rise of the Machines won't leave humanity on the dole

Change is constant. Embrace it

The world changes. Get used to it

And that's really how technology does change over time. It isn't that all lathe operators suddenly get turfed out overnight by CNC machines, but that over years or even decades, jobs gradually change. What would have been seen as a lathe operator at the beginning of the process is now, at the end, seen as a CNC supervisor.

You've all seen this in your own jobs over the decades. You're all still engineers in tech somewhere, but what you actually do is radically different from what you were doing 20 years ago. As is the tech you do it with, of course. The tech world is rather hyper compared to the rest of the economy about this.

So if we expect 10 per cent of all jobs to disappear over one year, over 20 years we expect 200 per cent of them to go – and if you expect 20 per cent per year, then it's 400 per cent in total. Of course, we don't mean that each and every job will disappear: but 35 per cent of jobs within a 200 per cent turnover doesn't look all that bad, really.

It can be much worse: Keynes, before his magnum opus, (i.e., in 1930, in Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren) looked at the mass unemployment of the time as being a symptom of technological change getting ahead of that more normal jobs flow.

In that case, it was the twofold automation of agriculture and the electrification of manufacturing. It is possible for the transition to be more than just a little uncomfortable if the rates of change get out of hand, but an extra 15 per cent or so on top of our normal churn isn't regarded as that.

Which brings us to our second economic point here. Which is the general assumption that human desires and wants are unlimited. Meaning we're both greedy and lazy little fuckers. So, if “a job” gets automated, the question isn't “what's that person going to go and do now”, it's “which other human desire or want can that labour be turned to satiating?”

If, for example, we still needed 90 per cent of the population wading in pigshit to feed everyone then we really wouldn't be able to have 10 per cent of the population working in the NHS, would we?

Or not, at least, have anything other than the NHS and wading in pig shit as occupations, nor could we have any of the other things, from libraries through ballet to car manufacturing and [insert any other occupation here] that makes up our civilisation. Tractors made the NHS and libraries possible. And so it will be with automation of the things we currently do for a living.

The question isn't what will people do for a living, it's which desires can we now feed as a result of having this now free labour?

The rate of change can get out of hand, but, relative to the current rates, no one seems to be predicting that. So the correct answer to worries about automation and roboticisation is to ask, well, what do I want that I can't yet have? ®

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