Lots of workers (in manufacturing) are concerned about losing their jobs to robots, as the inexorable rise of automated machines and AI gathers pace.
One common ‘defence’ is to suggest that robots only take over the drudgery – leaving the humans to take on more skilled, more knowledge-based tasks, and making the workplace safer.
This is a valid argument – unless, of course, you are one of the ‘drudges’ and do not find yourself elevated to the richer, knowledge-based work held out in front of you when the changes were proposed.
Those of you older than 40 in the UK will know that a whole generation has grown up in former mining communities will very few alternative job opportunities.
Once, young unskilled males had the options of mining, manufacturing or military. Now those options are limited to filling orders in a warehouse, flipping burgers or driving a delivery van – and automation is set to tackle at least two of those in the coming years.
The dream when I was growing up was that such automation and technological advancement would allow us all to work fewer hours and yet live better lives. In practice technology has made a very small number of people very rich, left many people working much longer hours (or multiple jobs) and left quite a lot of people with no job at all.
We generate more wealth – but we distribute it les equally.
This is a recipe for short-term gain but longer-term unrest.
We need an industrial strategy that is tied to a social strategy – and we need a productivity strategy that addresses all of social, environmental and economic benefit.