The Cost of Automation
Repeatedly we have been told that automation does not cost jobs. Let’s look at situations where this is true.
A factory that was going out of business may automate and become more productive, allowing it to survive. The jobs that would have been lost are now intact. As business improves, the factory could grow far larger and take on many times more hands. Entire dying industries could be turned around.
Or, some innovator could develop a new product or service, but to make it largely by hand would price it out of the consumer’s reach. Automation makes the product viable and creates new jobs that never existed before.
However, this optimistic outlook ignores the far more common situation where all the businesses in an entire industry automate, simply to remain competitive with each other. The industry is producing the same volume of output, but with far less labour. Jobs have been lost.
Economists love to talk about how automation means cheaper products, and that means an increase in real wages. You can buy more with the same money.
Provided you are employed and have money.
For the growing numbers of displaced workers, automation means economic misery. Very few countries provide living benefits to the unemployed.
In perhaps fifty years (and I’m being cautious here), humans will be completely superfluous in industry. At that point, you have to ask yourself, what will humans do to earn enough to stay alive?
In perhaps fifty years (and I’m being cautious here), AI will be far smarter than humans. Humans may not even be the bosses and owners of the Autons anymore. The Autons will be talking to each other, learning from each other (not from humans), forming alliances and of course competing with each other. It’s far from impossible that a highly ambitious Auton will design a machine that destroys its competitor—a machine like a nuclear bomb delivered by an ICBM, for example.
This is where ethics comes into the picture.