Friday, 21 August 2015

Is Technology a Job Destroyer or Creator?

There are some critics of technology that believe humanity could be threatening its existence by creating artificial intelligence that could eventually make machines interested in their own survival. They may have a point. However, artificial intelligence aside, technology has not been the threat it has been made out to be for generations. It has actually been very good for society by making the things we do easier. It has even created more jobs.

Technology is often seen as a job killer because it is viewed only in the short-sightedness of the here and now. Nevertheless, is technology really so bad? Economists at Deloitte wanted to know once and for all, so they undertook an extensive research project looking at data stretching back to 1871. They looked at census records from England and Wales, among other data, to determine the kinds of jobs people were doing in the midst of advancements in technology. To the surprise of many, the research shows technology to be very favourable.

For example, consider automation in the agricultural industry. The advent of modern machinery not only paved the way for replacing horse-drawn ploughs with motorised tractors, but it also enabled farmers to work extensive areas of land without the need for additional labourers. This was hailed as job-killing technology at the time. But what happened?

Equipment manufacturers needed to hire workers to manufacture the new tractors that farmers needed. Thus, new jobs were created. Automation also made farming cheaper, causing a drop in food prices. People then had more money to spend on other things, thus stimulating the economy and giving rise to new services and products and the jobs necessary to produce them.

According to the Deloitte research, the number of farmers, laundry workers, and other manual labourers has fallen drastically in England and Wales since the late 19th century. Farming labour fell 95%; the laundry industry went from 200,000 workers in 1901 (with a population of 32.5 million) to 35,000 in 2011 (with a total population of 56.1 million). By contrast:

·        nursing and auxiliary positions are up 909%
·        teaching and educational support positions up 580%
·        welfare, housing and social service positions up 183%
·        home care worker positions up 168%.

Technology Changes for the Better

The Deloitte report is far too extensive to cover all the details here, but the results are clear: technology has changed things for the better. It is made commercial operations more efficient, management more effective, and infrastructure more productive. The improvements of technology also give us more disposable income that enables society to enjoy a better standard of living. Moreover, with that better standard of living come new products and services that lead to continued economic expansion.

Technology may be a job killer inasmuch as it eliminates the need for labour intensive work, but it creates more jobs than it destroys. We need not be afraid of it until the day we start making it intelligent enough to see to our disposal.

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