The Future of Work by Darrell M. West || A Review

The Future of Work|| Robots, AI, and Automation
Author Darrell M. West

A Review by Scott Dennis

If you have never considered the impact of automation on the workplace, this quote from a top technology CEO provides an opening salvo from Darrell West’s “The future of work” and should get your attention. “We will soon launch a robot that can perform tasks currently done by people with a high school education or less. The robot will only cost $20,000.00”. Throughout the reading of this important book I refer back to this quote and meditate on my trepidation for friends and fellow citizens that fall into this category.
The future of work is an insightful analysis of the precarious state that our society finds itself in. West describes industries’ heedless adoption of automation technology balanced by everyday workers that find themselves with little or no voice about change impacting their livelihoods. At the fulcrum are policy makers that are under informed about the impact of technology on their constituents. Politicians are also faced with the conundrum of accepting corporate funding from companies that will eventually pressure social programs by putting their citizens out of work.

The chapters of the book are intuitively ordered into the categories of “accelerating innovation”, “economic and social impact” and “an action plan” so that a logical and nuanced understanding of the technological challenge to society can be understood by any reader. Importantly possible strategies to avoid social catastrophe are offered for policy makers and activists alike to consider. In “accelerating innovation” West takes the reader on a tour of the technological advances that have infiltrated our daily lives. These advances have made our lives easier in many ways, robots that can perform dangerous or monotonous tasks, machine learning breakthroughs that have evolved into our faithful personal assistants or even something more intimate. Imagine an autonomous vehicle that could safely drive you and your children to appointed destinations in the morning and perhaps make some money for you as a driverless taxi when you are not using it. Autonomous driving and many other innovations discussed in the book are only possible through a chain of technologies being controlled by artificial technology or “AI”. Advances in AI are akin to a modern day space race with enormous corporate and national budgets employed to keep ahead of the curve. West quotes a 2017 statement from China’s state council to “build a domestic AI industry worth almost $150 billion by 2030”. The key take away from this discussion of deep learning machines is what kind of data sets are we providing AI and can ethics truly be programmed into what are essentially electronic brains? The author wisely advocates for a policy of transparency and a vigilance regarding the decisions humans are making during this nascent moment in the history of robotics.

“We will soon launch a robot that can perform tasks currently done by people with a high school education or less..”

The section on Economic and Social Impact opens with the utopic musings of author Edward Bellamy, in his vision of the 21st century automation has led to shortened work weeks and happy citizens who can spend their leisure time mentoring the young. The betterment of themselves and their community has become their focal point in life because their basic needs of housing, food and health care have been met. Here West takes the positive view suggesting that despite the fact that we are in a time where health benefits and secure careers are a more distant reality for workers that it takes a societal change about the very nature of work to shift to a more equitable economy. The shared or collaborative economy is defined by services exchanged peer-to peer, usually through an electronic platform, the major example being Uber drivers. Employees enjoy time flexibility and a certain amount of autonomy but give up the certainty of the health care support system. In order for these models to be sustainable West argues there will have to be unionization or at the very least agreed upon minimums in remunerations for these “new collar workers”. There are now millions of Americans joining in this type of work, popularly known as the “gig” economy. The future of work does a good job of introducing the reader to a host of models that could help restore the traditional benefits arrangement of full employment, the key concept to all of them being the notion of portability of benefits. The idea is laid out this way, since corporations are moving towards limited contracts workers then benefits such as medical leave and retirement should move with the employee instead of the employer; this creates a new social contract between company and worker. Regardless of which scheme is adopted the most heated area of debate is who will pay to support this shift in the economy? Assorted tax proposals are discussed within this book with one common conclusion, namely that the wealthy will have to give up something to help those displaced. Reading between the lines here the reader must ask themselves, who is actually benefiting from cutting back workers and technological efficiencies? In our lifetimes have we not seen the focus of business move from rank and file workers to the shareholder? Whatever the outcome it is clear that working citizens will have to leverage the power of democratic and educational institutions to regain their seat at the table of our shifting economy.

In the section “Action Plan” West asks if our political system is up to the challenge of structural change, even a casual observer of the present state of deadlock in the beltway the answer seems dubious. Unlike political struggles in the past however inaction concerning displacement of workers due to automation will increase the distrust of democratic institutions West agues. Anyone experiencing the tumults of the twenty four hour news cycle would have to agree. The book draws on some of the best economic historians to outline a fascinating new legal structure referred to as “Republic 2.0” where the various initiatives for change could have a chance to flourish. The basic understanding is that politics cannot be separated from economy and that even the amending of the U.S. constitution to reflect a people first attitude in the new economy must be considered. The future of work is required reading for anyone concerned about their place in the future labor force, once read it should serve as a guide for equitable change for activists and policy makers alike.

Mr. Darrell M. West is Vice President of the governance program at the Brooking Institute

Scott Dennis is the Executive Director of the Blue Collar Think Tank @bcthinktank

 

Optomistic Perspective on Automation

The Robots Are Coming To The Workplace. What you need to know.
John Hawthorne guest contributor

In the history of business and manufacturing, automation has become commonplace. In many ways, people have been replaced by machines in the manufacturing, retail, restaurant, and corporate settings.

At the same time, opportunities have arisen for employees who specialize in programming, engineering, and maintenance of machines in all areas of commerce and industry.

So here’s the crucial question: Will automation kill or create jobs?

Will the robot uprising be a good thing or take our livelihoods?

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Jobs Lost to Automation In the United States

 

Before we start panicking and declaring robots to be evil, let’s look at the statistics. While it’s clear that robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have displaced some workers in the past, the effect on the US economy is relatively minimal. There are currently between 1.5 and 1.75 million industrial robots operating around the globe, according to the International Federation of Robotics.

The auto industry accounts for 39% of such robots, followed by the electronics industry at 19%, metal product manufacturing at 9%, and the plastics and chemicals industry at 9%, according to MIT economists Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo.

This translates into “one more robot per thousand workers” reducing the aggregate employment to population ratio by about 0.34%. In other words, every new robot added to a given commuting zone reduces employment by 5.6 workers. And the researchers project that the number of industrial robots will reach between 4 and 6 million by 2025.

If the total number of industrial robots quadruples by 2025, the researchers expect 0.94 to 1.76% lower employment-to-population ratio and 1.3 to 2.6% lower wage growth between 2015 and 2025. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotic automation will erase 16% of US jobs by 2025.

So while the current numbers aren’t staggering, the future is a bit concerning. If sixteen percent of US jobs are eliminated by robots, that’s quite a few people on unemployment.

Jobs Lost to Automation vs Outsourcing
Automation is not the only factor in unemployment in the United States. Job outsourcing helps US companies be more competitive in the global marketplace. They lower labor costs by hiring in emerging markets with lower wages. That lowers prices on the goods shipped back to the United States.

The main negative effect of outsourcing is it increases US unemployment. Currently, 14 million outsourced jobs are almost double the 7.5 million unemployed Americans. In other words, outsourcing is just as destructive to the economy as automation.

Automation Can Create More Jobs

Getty Images

However, automation can create more jobs as well. For example, when the industrial revolution replaced work that was normally done in a long, drawn out, and tedious ways (such as weaving machines replacing individual seamstresses), those who were displaced learned how to operate the machines. Textile workers were most often those displaced seamstresses.

The industrial revolution taught the world that as traditional jobs disappear, we need to ensure that people of all ages are sufficiently educated to work in the emerging roles in the immediate future.

The changing times demand new skills, new mindsets, new competencies, and new institutions. While there are certainly soft and hard skills from the past that should remain staples in education (like personal communication, collaboration, basic mathematics, writing skills, etc.), it would benefit the country to also consider adding curriculum in robotics, computer science, and engineering.

Though many school systems have these capabilities and are implementing such programs, not all have the funding or resources to make such changes.

Just as with every new industrial age, the age of robots will lead to more jobs. Kallum Pickering, analyst with Berenberg, has pointed out a large hole in the argument that artificial intelligence (AI) will lead to vast numbers of workers joining the ranks of the unemployed:

“Producers will only automate if doing so is profitable. For profit to occur, producers need a market to sell to in the first place. Keeping this in mind helps to highlight the critical flaw of the argument: if robots replaced all workers, thereby creating mass unemployment, to whom would the producers sell? Because demand is infinite whereas supply is scarce, the displaced workers always have the opportunity to find fresh employment to produce something that satisfies demand elsewhere.”

Most employers and analysts generally agree that there should be measures in place to reduce the impact of jobs lost to automation, like education programs for re-skilling workers who will lose their jobs.

So does automation cost jobs? Sure. Every industrial revolution initially displaces a portion of workers. But automation will also create many new jobs as displaced workers adapt to the changing economy.

What Jobs Will Automation Create?

A Deloitte study of automation in the U.K. found that 800,000 low-skilled jobs were replaced by AI and other automation technologies. But, 3.5 million new jobs were created as well, and those jobs paid on average nearly $13,000 more per year than the ones that were lost.

Positive, worker-friendly outcomes like this illustrate a more complete range of possibilities for automation. Technology is changing the way we work — this is undeniable. These changes can improve people’s lives and lead to a more creative, intellectually engaged workforce. AI is most often used to perform mindless, repetitive tasks, which means that employees can spend more time on complex tasks for which they are suited, such as interacting with customers or brainstorming innovative new ideas.

Creativity is what distinguishes humans from machines. And not just the capacity for creative work, but the ability to reimagine what jobs might look like in the near future and beyond.

Here are three examples of companies using automation to create jobs and help their leaders develop better businesses:

Panera Bread

Panera Bread announced in April of 2017 that it would create 10,000 delivery driver and in-café jobs in response to the popularity of its delivery service. High customer demand for ordering soups and sandwiches through the chain’s AI-powered digital platform led the company to decide to expand the service to 40 percent of its stores. The company said that its drivers would enjoy “daytime hours and competitive wages”.

The Marlin Steel Factory

The Marlin Steel factory in Baltimore is a classic case of automation driving innovation. When Chinese manufacturers undercut Marlin Steel’s prices for its core wire basket product line, the company was forced to pivot. Marlin Steel purchased robotic wire-forming machines and began focusing on making high-quality precision products for companies such as Boeing and General Motors. It also hired more people and increased wages, attracting workers whose diverse backgrounds complemented the computer-aided production processes around which the factory now revolves.

Boxed

When AI and robotics replaced the need for 100 fulfillment workers at Boxed’s New Jersey facility, the online grocery startup retrained and promoted them into different departments. Some of the workers became trainers teaching coworkers how to use the new fulfillment systems, while others transitioned into customer service roles. A number of former temporary workers became full-time employees and enjoyed a 13% pay increase.

These companies have made the choice to embrace technology and make it work for them and their employees. The fear of automation should not be a driving factor in the decision-making process of any company. Careful study and understanding of how to best utilize resources, including human resources, are the lifeblood of a successful business.

Are There Other Benefits of Automation?

There are multiple impacts in the use of automation across many industries.

The first is that production costs are reduced, which allows more consumers to purchase a company’s products.

The second will be the demand for skilled labor. As more robots and AI apparatuses are integrated into business, the demand for skilled workers who can operate, repair, and maintain such devices will increase.

The third is the possibility that wages will increase for the workers. If companies can make more money with the same number of workers, they can pay those workers better.

The fourth is that automation allows humans to become more innovative and spend more time being creative. If humans aren’t bogged down by routine tasks, they will find something better to do.

Finally, we may need automation.

QZ notes:

As the birthrate in many countries declines, the share of the working age population will shrink. To maintain today’s GDP, those workers will each need to be more productive than workers today, and they’ll need to improve at a faster rate than they have in the past. Even if productivity continued to improve at the same rate that it has throughout the last 50 years—within which the computer and the internet both became mainstream tools—it wouldn’t be enough of an improvement to sustain GDP. Automation technology could be the answer. According to a McKinsey analysis, it could raise global productivity by as much as 0.8% to 1.4% annually—but only if humans keep working, as well

Should We Fear A Robot Apocalypse?

While automation is becoming more commonplace, so are the opportunities for the worker to learn new skills and possibly earn a higher wage. Mundane, routine tasks will be taken over by robots, AI, and other forms of automation; this will allow workers to expand their innovation and creativity. Such opportunities will allow the job market to change and grow to fit ever changing technology.

So while the idea of increased automation may seem frightening on the surface, it actually heralds great things for the future. So bring on the bots!

McKinsey Report on Tech a Wake Up Call

By Scott Dennis

The McKinsey Global Institute has published a sweeping overview of the looming effects of technology on the global workforce. The 160 page report is a well-researched and honest attempt to predict the future of our relationship with technology. We say relationship because as the report dives deeper into the comprehensive ways that technology envelops our lives, the question is not merely about “robots taking our jobs” but rather more like a landscape where we need to make many compromises if this marriage it going to work out. We can forgive McKinsey’s researchers for being overly optimistic describing their data in this way “the results reveal a rich mosaic of potential shifts in occupations in the years ahead…” a quote that could be taken straight out of a Human Resources handbook on employee termination. It helps to have a positive spin when writing about this issue because things could go very badly for us, but they are not fait accompli.

The Blue Collar Think Tank promotes the holistic introduction of technology into the work force and we agree with the McKinsey report that the front lines of a successful transition lay with employers and also the way the employees see the very idea of work. We would advise an additional component to this which would be increasing workers control over their workplace. The McKinsey report points out that the introduction of new technology can be expensive and time consuming, suggesting that employers may even decide that automation doesn’t make economic sense. The conundrum of rising productivity resulting conversely in flat wages in America suggests otherwise; corporate managers seem to believe that jumping on the tech train is inevitable and they collude with shareholders against workers on these decisions. The labor force needs to have more of a say in IT policy that will adversely affect their paychecks, sweeping reform of corporate by-laws will be required for this to work, perhaps with a requirement for members of unions to be equal equity partners.

The McKinsey researchers are quick to point out that they could be underestimating the negative impacts of automation in the workplace noting that policy makers may be slow to respond to the challenge, that workers will not have replacement jobs quickly at the ready or the ability to gain new skills which will create a downward pressure on wages. We believe that the epicenter for the political change needed to address these issues will be in mayor’s offices nationwide. Who doesn’t know a grade school teacher who is forced to buy her own supplies for students because the district is perpetually underfunded? With a conservative estimate of 15% of the workforce displaced a massive strain on tax revenues on already crumbling municipalities will bring the problem to a head. This will eventually pit policy makers against employers that are overzealous with automation, because after all robots don’t pay taxes.

Please read McKinsey’s full report here: https://tinyurl.com/ydhgaz8l

Scott Dennis Writes for Blue Collar Think Tank @bcthinktank

Will blockchain be a net loss for jobs?

Will blockchain be a net loss for jobs?

By Scott Dennis March 4, 2017

It is early days in the world of block chain technology, so why worry about its effect on jobs? If you buy into the hype that is being dealt from bit coin fueled startups all the way to IBM’s New York headquarters then you would believe that the impact of blockchain will be no less as important as the internet. The internet is the world’s greatest printing press, disseminating information globally with limits however in its ability to trade items of value in a secure way. A new way of trading is essentially the promise of blockchain, employing the same technology that makes crypto currency detached from the usual gate keepers of money, developers imagined an open ledger where business transactions are ultra-transparent with an incorruptible digital trail. With blockchain the only element missing is the kind of trust that traditional banks currently enjoy, which advocates hope will come over time.

Will jobs be lost?

If champions of blockchain compare it so closely to the internet then in may be helpful to analyze its future impact on the job market by asking “has the internet been a job creator or destroyer?” As of this writing Snap Inc. a company that lives online is having its IPO rolled out and it will be put up on the bookshelf of e-businesses throwing off billions of dollars on paper. Despite the high profile earnings of similar companies and their millions of users the jury is still out on how the internet has affected workers.  The Economic World Forum has this to say in regards to internet effect on employment:

“According to calculations, current trends could lead to a net employment impact of more than 5.1 million jobs lost to disruptive labour market changes over the period 2015–2020, with a total loss of 7.1 million jobs—two thirds of which are concentrated in the Office and Administrative job family—and a total gain of 2 million jobs, in several smaller job families.”

On the other hand McKinsey & Company has leveraged its resources to come up with an alternative perspective:

“The Internet’s impact on global growth is rising rapidly. The Internet accounted for 21 percent of GDP growth over the last five years among the developed countries MGI studied, a sharp acceleration from the 10 percent contribution over 15 years. Most of the economic value created by the Internet falls outside of the technology sector, with 75 percent of the benefits captured by companies in more traditional industries. The Internet is also a catalyst for job creation. Among 4,800 small and medium-size enterprises surveyed, the Internet created 2.6 jobs for each lost to technology-related efficiencies.”

Why the confusion?

Analysts can come up with very different perspectives when asking questions about new technology because jobs need to be seen as different labor families, grouped into clerical, industrial, managerial for example. Technologies like blockchain will mean different things to different people or labor families. What we can say for sure is that blockchain has some important goals to improve market transactions, if you are working as an intermediary along a logistics, trade or other commercial chain the target is squarely on your back.  This is how blockchain offers added value fiscally, by blowing away an assortment of gate keepers that are seen as expensive and potentially unreliable. The near term question will be if the assurances of security and transparency are enough of a tradeoff to cast off many traditional jobs, only time will tell.

Scott Dennis writes for Blue Collar Think Tank

www.bluecollarthinktank.com

@bcthinktank

 

 

Humanity 2.0

humanity-2-0

Humanity 2.0 “Let the Robot be the couch potato: Keep Your Job & Expand Your Knowledge

“We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology but we have cleverly arranged things so that almost nobody understands science and technology. That’s a clear prescription for disaster.” Carl Sagan

By Scott Dennis October 18, 2016

How did you find yourself watching pharmaceutical commercials during the middle of the work week? The reason is that you are out of work and how to respond to this fact can be the toughest road that you ever traveled. But let’s not be so self-absorbed, what if the delivery man and the postal worker or the taxi driver all suddenly found themselves on the couch watching television with you, unemployed and disturbed by the multiple side effects of a new prostate drug? Harry Truman once said that “It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job, it’s a depression when you lose yours” there is a radical change coming to our job market and ironically it is due to our own ingenuity.

Anyone reading this knows that technology has changed the workplace dramatically over the last thirty years and often for the better. However it is time for the human species to reflect on the decisions we make about how technology is applied and for whose benefit. Breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence (AI) also puts pressures on us to make decisions about the role robotics will play in our lives before AI makes the decisions for us. If that sounds like a stretch consider how far new algorithms used by machines have come, they are now paired with annotated data sets that were unimaginable just a few years ago. That is to say the algorithm gives the technology rules on how to think and learn, but the amount of information in the cloud or from google provides virtually unlimited substance for learning.  This is why we have seen Watson become the Jeopardy! Champion or Deep Blue defeating the World Chess master Garry Kasparov.

In the short term this is a problem for labor but in the long run professional managers will also be greatly affected. Freshly minted MBA’s need to be aware that they will also have skin in this game of technology adversely affecting jobs. Experts in the field of labor history point out that in a rational market new jobs tend to be created with the churn of advancements in industry, however we in the labor market need to leverage political policy and labor law in case AI creates a distinctly “irrational” economy. Outlined here are a few ideas on how to avoid an increase in inequality and joblessness in our communities.

Understand there is a problem. Organizations like Blue Collar Think Tank and other nonprofits are laying out the issues for citizens to understand in a clear way, without the technical or legal jargon to confuse the issue.

Make corporations accountable. It can feel that decisions made to optimize or digitize work processes are made in a vacuum or behind closed doors. Publically traded companies should be compelled to have 51% of their shares held by an employees, through a fund or other legal frame work. With this scenario new capital expenditures in technology that will result in layoffs can be made with all stakeholders involved.

Buy in from the tech sector. Some of our greatest minds are makers in the very sector where these challenges to labor are emanating from. In the race to help humanity they may very well harm it. A good lesson can be learned from another cutting edge field, DNA genetics. What researchers have realized is that despite having the tools to manipulate our very genetic code they cannot come to agreement on what a “normal” healthy person should be. It’s the same for technology, the mantra should not always be “can we do it”, but perhaps “should we do it”.

Merge Human Resources and IT in the workplace. Information technology can be a distinctly inhuman arm of any company. This is ultimately what Carl Sagan was referring to when he mentioned “the clever arrangement where nobody understands technology”. In the same way HR stresses ethics in the workplace, technology that is used by employees need to come out of the server closet so that everyone effected by it understands it. This needs be a new workplace best practice as workers are influenced as much by IT as they are ethical concerns on the job.

Finally when thinking about these challenges it is helpful to maximize what is uniquely human for our future economy. Think about the power of a great orator to summon up emotions. Team work amongst co-workers that help communities achieve goals or entirely human motivations like the proper raising of our children. In the final analysis we may  realize that our technology is our most human trait after all.

Scott Dennis writes for www.bluecollarthinktank.com @bcthinktank contact@bluecollarthinktank.com

Robots and Forbidden Fruit

robotsforbidden

By Scott Dennis September 13, 2016

Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution…” –Stephen Hawking

There is a good chance that you are reading this article on a device that despite not existing just two decades ago you now find hard to live without. This technology gives you unparalleled access to a global market, a few clicks and your product is at the door in a few days or maybe a few hours; what could possibly be wrong with this level of convenience? Our culture is unique in that no group of human beings has ever had to cope with this level of social evolution brought on by technology, not even those who witnessed the dawn of the industrial revolution. Facing this reality many in the working class are instinctually asking, is the pace of change moving at the speed of progress or like a game of three card monte dealt out by sleight of hand?

A common graph used by economists when discussing the impact of automation on the working class looks very much like a fork in the road. It describes the labor force as being more productive yet receiving less wages relative to that productivity. The productivity line in the chart describes how efficiently anything coming to market is being produced, automation is key to making this output more streamlined when compared to the cost of production. The disconnect for workers is a how their take home pay and benefits do not grow and in many cases contract on average despite increasing revenues due to this improved productivity that they keep hearing about. This simple data set is the first step toward understanding what working class people in industrial societies are grappling with and how robots could be picking the forbidden fruit of human labor, their jobs.

index

Despite the massive implications of technological disruptions with the workforce and its secondary effects, the scholarly field studying this crisis is relatively small. These economists focused on working class issues are creating reliable mathematical models to understand the scope of technologies effect on labor. Leaders in the field such as Dr. Daron Acemoglu from MIT remind us that there have been many dire but incorrect predictions about technology creating widespread unemployment, beginning with Milton Keynes in 1930 and noted economic historian Robert Heilbroner in 1965.

There are many complex concepts employed in the economic research on this topic such as “Endogenous response of technology”, “Productivity Effects”, “Homotheticity” and the “Balanced growth path” (BGP) for the economy.  The concept that working class people can be most concerned with is the ability of capital to create more highly skilled jobs when automation is introduced. Many of the models do prove that technology creates jobs loss and income inequality in the short run but that in the long run equilibrium returns due to the historic habit of new more complex tasks being created for workers, the point being that humans would have an advantage over technology in these cases. These studies also suggest that external pricing forces can slow down the need for capital investment in automation. In a recent paper Dr. Acemoglu states that “Under reasonable conditions, there exists a stable balance growth path in which the two types of innovations go hand in hand.”

The mission for an initiative like the Blue Collar Think Tank is to place a spotlight on this last point, are the working class living under “reasonable conditions?”

bluecollarthinktankCanvas

The connectivity to the market place that we all enjoy through our smart devices, puts enormous logistical pressure on the supply chain to work a smoothly as possible. There is a leaning toward optimization in this sector that acts as an example and cautionary tale for many other areas where labor still has a foothold. In the ports the changes are already taking place with automated container carriers and robot trucks that move cargo around the freight yard without the help of a longshoreman. Massive warehouses hum with activity twenty four hours a day with just a skeleton crew. How about your friendly neighborhood delivery man? There are robotics teams around the country that are very close to rolling out robots to replace them, that would equate to over half a million good paying jobs when one accounts for all the companies involved including the US Postal Service.

What new positions will be opening up to create the equilibrium predicted by many economic models when entire classes of labor are forever occupied by automatons

that require no sick time or maternity leave? This time predictions of wide spread unemployment may come to fruition because of two realities that did not exist in the past. First is the imbalance between stakeholders within today’s corporations, shareholders dominate the corporate landscape, labor holds few of the cards and most of their rights as employees have been stripped to increase profit margins. Secondly is the rise of artificial intelligence (A.I.), which is the game changer in terms of the theory of equilibrium being found in the creation of complicated tasks. Algorithms with ever increasing intelligence have the ability to tip the balance between labor and capital, supplanting an ever growing spectrum of job categories.

The good news is that technology is a tool that can only be as harmful or helpful as we allow it to be. Effective solutions begin with education of the workers affected by technological change. For every corporation involved with extensive automation labor leaders need to identify the managers or committee that make the decision on capital that can lead to automation running too far ahead of new job creation. In this era we cannot afford to wait for the market to create the change needed, working class strategies must be generated and implemented by policy makers working in the interest of citizens, not just corporations.

Scott Dennis writes for bluecollarthinktank and @bcthinktank

The Factory of the future will have Two Employees

robot

Robots at my door

Scott Dennis-New York

8/22/2016

“The factory of the future will have two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.” -Warren G. Bennis

Having been in the position to hire and fire employees, I have always wanted to judge my own career by the amount of new jobs created to help people support their families. A loss of a job through firing, lay off or just the churn of employees finding new opportunities are disruptive to a person’s life but are part of the normal cycle of the capitalist market place. What happens when this equilibrium between labor and employer comes out of balance? This is what the world is facing in the form of ever-more sophisticated technology. The reality of this Pandora’s Box is affecting your families and friends and employers themselves are now realizing that they cannot control it.

“How can median incomes decrease in countries with gross domestic product and over-all productivity sky rocketing?”

Robots are not waking up with the goal of taking your job, at least not yet. The transition of workers lives in the late 19th and 20th century has seen the standard of living increase in countries embracing technology, labor has generally been made far more productive with income levels creating a healthy middle class in the modernized world.  However the relentless drive toward optimization in the private sector today are using robots to move the cost of labor into the profit margin on a dramatic scale. Even in environments with strong unionized workers, such as the auto industry and longshoremen on the waterfront in America, new technology that has already been seen displacing workers globally is on pace to cut down the need for human assets in blue collar sectors in American cities with ports and heavy industry. In my career I have witnessed the future of a dock workers life as I compared the amount of longshoremen working the Port of Newark or Oakland compared to the relative quiet of a new container terminal in Amsterdam where robots move cargo without the need for their human counterparts, doing away with their wages, pensions and liabilities.

CYgraphic

If you do not know anyone in heavy industry perhaps you believe that this wave of technology is someone else’s problem. The World Economic Forum suggests that in the short term over five million jobs in the administration field such as accountants, sales people and an array of positions in healthcare will be affected. This challenge that labor is facing differs greatly from globalization in that when a country loses a factory to an overseas competitor, people somewhere are getting the work albeit at a lower relative wage. Jobs lost to robotics force labor not to just another job but another occupation since the function of their position is eliminated completely from the market. These shifts due to technology have a number of secondary effects such as income inequality which has become more acute as economic growth continues in an upwards trend with a perverse downward trend in employment. How can median incomes decrease in countries with gross domestic product and over-all productivity sky rocketing? These paradoxes are being created by a third force wedged between labor and employer, robotics and technology and its applications will soon be out of the control of white collar managers. There is a great need for creative strategies  from sectors spanning from technology to faith leaders to offer some positive options for workers that policy makers can carve into legislation.

scottBlue

 

 

 

 

Scott Dennis has had a twenty year career in transportation and labor negotiation and is also the founder of Blue Collar Think Tank. scottdennis@bluecollarthinktank.com @bcthinktank

Robot Image courtesy of ShutterStock