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19 April, 2021

Will technology make us jobless? 3 reasons why it won’t

By: Omar Abdul-Hafiz

Throughout much of the industrial revolution in the 1800s and the first half of the 20th century, there was an occupation popular in many parts of Europe at the time called the ‘knocker-upper’. The main responsibility of a knock-upper was pretty simple: wake people up! A knocker-upper would walk around the town holding a long stick, baton, or even a pea-shooter to knock on people’s doors or windows early in the morning so they can get up and go to work on time.

This occupation, however, was soon to fade away with the development and spread of alarm clocks. As a result, we can already feel that these little devices have rendered knocker-uppers jobless as their services were no longer needed. But is it really as bad as it seems? In the short term, perhaps. But why don’t we look at the bigger picture?

In this article, here are 3 simple points that demonstrate how, especially in the long run, technological advancement will almost certainly not cause mass unemployment.


1. New jobs come as old jobs go

A knocker-upper in Leeuwarden, Netherlands.
Source: Nationaal Archief
Throughout history, we can see a lot of examples of how technology, while rendering certain jobs obsolete, creates a plethora of new jobs in their place. For example, the lamplighter’s job was replaced with that of the electrician who is responsible for installing and maintaining electricity-powered street lamps. Also, instead of the pinsetter in bowling alleys, we now have the technician responsible for installing and maintaining the automatic pin-setting devices we appreciate today. And the examples of this are endless.

Looking into our current day and age, evidence shows that not only does technology replace old jobs with new ones, but it can create even more jobs than it takes away. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 report on the future of jobs, nearly 85 million jobs may be displaced as a result of the shift in the division of labour between humans and machines by the year 2025. The same report, however, states that 97 million new roles will emerge during the same period. This means that there’s expected to be an overall increase by at least 12 million jobs.



2. Less labour-intensive, more creative

Pinsetters at work.
Source: Public Domain
One of the most fundamental laws of physics and chemistry is the one related to the conservation of energy. Simply put, it states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It simply transforms from one form into another. Comparing this to the relationship between jobs and technology, we can see a similar image.

Looking back into the examples we mentioned previously – namely, the pinsetter and the switchboard operator --, we can see that such types of jobs used to be extremely labour-intensive. For instance, the pinsetter had to spend the entire day waiting for bowling players to knock the pins off only to set them up again. There was hardly anything intuitive, much less valuable about the job. More importantly, the people who worked in the pin-setting job were mostly young children who often had to stay up until midnight repeating the same exhausting task over, and over, and over again! With the introduction of the automatic pin-setting device, these young children now have a better chance at seeking proper education, learning new skills. This is sure to allow them to take up jobs of higher value and benefit to their local community and the nation as a whole.

Thus, by automating these highly repetitive and monotonous jobs, we may have a better chance at improving the way we utilize human potential. People will now be able to focus more on jobs that involve knowledge, creativity, intuition, and critical thinking.


3. Technology cannot replace everything

The third important point to consider when discussing this issue is that no matter how much technology advances, there will always remain certain aspects in human labor that technology cannot, and will not replace, ever. For example, in fields such as child care, journalism, and healthcare; all these jobs cannot simply be replaced by robots because each of them demands a specific set of skills that only a human being is capable of.

A childcare expert is someone who can emotionally connect with children and make sure they are not only safe but also happy. This is not something that a machine can achieve. Likewise, a good doctor is not just someone who knows all the ins and outs of the human body and how to treat the various ailments that can befall it. A good doctor needs to have a sense of empathy toward his/her patients. He/she must be able to genuinely care for their patients as this would help them feel better and heal faster. Of course, a powerful robot or software system can certainly make the doctor’s job technically much easier, but it would never be able to truly take over the quintessential role of a doctor.


Conclusion

We can see by now that while technology might seem threatening to our jobs in the short term, its effects will only lead to generating more jobs for humans in the long run. It will help us by taking care of the repetitive and labour-intensive tasks for us while allowing us to focus on things that require more of our creativity, empathy and human touch.

So, in a nutshell, technology will not make humans jobless. What it will do, however, is transform the way humans carry out their tasks: facilitating labour-intensive jobs, creating new jobs that demand more technical knowledge and creativity.

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