We Don’t Automate Jobs

“We don’t automate jobs,” Alex Garden, CEO of food-tech startup Zume, said in a recent interview. “We automate boring, dangerous, repetitive tasks.”

This is the general story of automation: using technology to improve the lives of human beings.

The human beings don’t always appreciate it. One group of anti-machine protestors were the Luddites, a group of English workers who broke the machines factory owners bought to automate textile making.

The Luddites were sock makers. They used tools called frames to knit socks. This was already a slightly automated way to make socks, compared with traditional hand knitting, but it still required skill and training. When the machines came in, the factory owners could hire cheaper, less skilled people. The Luddites’ complaint was not about lower skilled workers losing their jobs to machines, which could happen in the near future in the United States. It was about skilled workers losing their jobs to less-skilled workers.

They demanded a minimum wage, tax-supported pensions for workers, and other things that we consider normal today. However, their chosen method of communication — breaking machines –was soon declared a crime punishable by death. Some of the protestors were hanged and some were shot by factory owners who didn’t want to wait for trials.

Anti-automation activists

Anti-automation protests today are more likely to take the form of refusing to use self-checkout machines.

But those who worry about automation and job loss have a point. Just like the Luddites, they’re not so much against technology as they are for the rights of human workers. Increased automation, now as it did 200 years ago, generally works out better for the people who own the machines than it does for the people whose work the machines take on.

Increasing automation might be talked about in terms of greater leisure — or more opportunity to provide customer service — but the economic benefits of automation will go to the owners of the machines unless some big changes take place. These big changes are what the modern Luddites want. Taxes on robots, worker bonuses triggered by increased productivity, and worker input on automation plans are on their agendas.

Other advantages of automation

The Luddites were worrying about their jobs, so they probably didn’t appreciate the fact that industrially made socks were more accessible for working people. Lower prices for goods has in the past been one of the results of automation.

Safety and satisfaction for workers have also been the results of automation. Hardly anyone wishes they could go back to the good old days of handwashing dishes or digging ditches by hand. Elevator operators and toll booth collectors probably don’t mourn the loss of those jobs much, either, even if they weren’t subject to the kind of disease and injury other jobs brought with them.

The point is, we don’t need to slow down automation. We need to plan for it. It will certainly disrupt some people’s lives. If we look back, we don’t wish we had telephone operators, but we also don’t think about what happened to them. Their unions claimed that the phone companies had created “technological unemployment,” but they had no second chances.

As we look forward, it makes sense to plan for the people whose lives will be disrupted.

Avoid disruption at your factory by planning ahead for the time when you might need service or support for your Rexroth motion control systems. We can help. Contact us today, or make sure you have our phone number handy: 479-422-0390. We specialize, so you don’t have to worry about third-party repairs.

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