Since the industrial revolution, machinery has been taking the jobs of men and women. Whether in the farmer’s fields, mining, the print industry, or the factory floor, new technology has been invented to do the work faster, more accurately, and more cost effectively. The new machinery of today, comprises computers, robots, and algorithms. With all this new technology, is there any need to fear the impact artificial intelligence is likely to have on the world of the future?
The Industrial and Technical Revolutions:
The first Industrial Revolution began in 1790, and stretched through into the mid/late 1800’s. While the industrial revolution continued, it was joined by the Technological Revolution – often called the Second Industrial Revolution – during the 1850’s. This revolution encompassed electrification, steel manufacturing, production lines, and mass production. Machinery was becoming the norm in all areas of the production process.
After the Second World War, technology advanced apace. The nuclear age came about, nuclear bombs, nuclear power, and the Digital Age – the Third Industrial Revolution – was born, which continues to this day. An age which includes anything digital, calculators, computers, the internet, mobile and smart-phones, and…Artificial Intelligence.
The Effect on Employment:
Throughout this period of over 150 years, from the employment perspective, nothing much has changed. As one would expect, there have been periods of increased unemployment, before employment climbed again. Most of these spikes were caused by governmental policy, rather than impacted by technology. After WW2, from the 1950’s until the early 1970’s, the UK registered average unemployment at just 2%. Although earlier figures have probably been estimated, in the UK around 1850, and US in the 1890’s, unemployment stood at around 5+%. Today, both countries are claiming figures of 5+%.
All those farm labourers and factory workers, whose livelihoods were affected by new machinery in the fields, and robotic systems in the factory, have managed to find other employment. Retraining, or moving to other areas, as new industrial and commercial complexes have been built to meet increased worldwide demand.
Artificial Intelligence Affects a Different section of The Workforce:
In a recent BBC interview, the eminent Professor Stephen Hawkins spoke of his fear of Artificial Intelligence taking over the world, and spelling the end of the human race. Artificial intelligence which is so advanced, it can start to re-program itself, increasing its own intelligence, much like the human brain.
Previous industrial revolutions have affected the working classes. Farm labourers, factory workers, any worker involved in jobs where robotic systems have taken over the production process. This latest digital revolution will affect the professionals amongst us. In many areas it has started already. This time around, if things continue as they are, not only will manual workers be affected, but also academics, teachers, doctors, lawyers, pilots, stockbrokers, writers, and many other professions.
Will Unemployment Increase Over the Years?
With greater and greater artificial intelligence taking over professional jobs, are the unemployment figures set to climb? If history tells us anything, the answer should be no. However, as automated as things have become, the increase in world trade has had much to do with keeping the jobless figures down. People who used to work on production lines have become maintenance electricians and engineers, warehousemen and truck drivers. Others have become entrepreneurs starting their own business, or employed in the service sector.
With many third world countries now joining the ranks of developing nations, how long can the developed countries expect to continue seeing increased output, keeping their populations employed, when similar products and services are being offered cheaper elsewhere?
As production slows, factories and warehouses close, and those newly trained engineers, drivers, and warehouse men begin to find themselves out of work again. This time being joined by the professional classes, as more advanced artificial intelligence swallows up their jobs also.
The Robots are Already Among Us:
At the moment, the results of a full body scan are interpreted by a doctor or surgeon. How long before the scanner not only provides the data, but also interprets it and makes a diagnosis. Passing on the results to yet another computer that performs the required keyhole surgery. Could that redundant surgeon re-train to maintain the machines? If indeed he wanted to.
We’ve all seen the effectiveness of military drones. Experimental work is already ongoing in civil aviation to assess the viability of pilotless civil aircraft carrying freight or passengers. Thousands of pilots out of work, just one needed to fly the aircraft from the comfort of a control tower.
Driverless cars are here. How long before it becomes trucks, buses, coaches, and trains, making hundreds-of-thousands of professional drivers across the world, redundant.
Speech recognition software is already far advanced. How long before today’s clerks, typists, and secretaries are laid off? The boss, manager, or CEO, speaking into a mike; while a remote computer in another room types an invoice, order, or report; and mails it to its destination.
Social Unrest will be The World’s Undoing:
I remember when desktop computers first appeared. In those days we were all going to work shorter hours, have more leisure time, and life would be utopian. The computer printer was going to bring about the paperless office, and save the planet’s trees. None-the-less, as a sponge can only absorb so much water, the world can only take so much automation. With no new jobs ensuing, because the robots will be building the new robots, what then for civilisation as we know it?
Unless other meaningful work can be found across all areas of society, we have to assume the job queues will begin to get longer. Research has already proved the greater the number out of work, the greater the social unrest. Robberies, robberies with violence, muggings, and murder, tend to increase alongside the increasing jobless figures.
It will become a world of survival of the fittest. Law and order will break down; as the fight for survival becomes a dog eat dog existence.
Maybe, when Professor Hawkins visualised the end of the human race, he wasn’t thinking of a world taken over by robots. But thinking more laterally; of a civilisation destroyed by the chaos and anarchy, which would result from a world of obsolete human beings.
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A British expat who has lived on this Island of Tenerife for over twelve years.A full time freelance writer, most of my time is spent article writing. I also write on D2C, Writedge, and wherever takes my fancy. For fun I try to increase my portfolio of short stories, with a view to eventually getting them published.