We’ve heard it time and again, the media’s portrayal of the future, a world submersed in advanced technology, one could only dream about. But, is this an accurate representation of our future society? Is there a possibility that our society becomes fully automated? That is the question concerning many skilled laborers, in the manufacturing industry, as automated machines are increasingly taking over various “routine” jobs. According to research done by Oxford in 2013, nearly half of all jobs in the U.S. are “potentially automatable,” within “a decade or two.”(Our Automated Future, 2016)
In the U.S., the manufacturing industry supplying the majority of middle class jobs, which if displaced would create job polarization within the U.S. economy. For those unfamiliar with the term, job polarization is basically the removal of the middle class and displacing those jobs into higher and lower paying job brackets. Considering the role education also plays on our society, this displacement has a possibility of occurring.
The role of education
Over the years, education has become a prominent piece within society. As companies become more stringent on the type of employees they hire, the more common the need for a degree has become. So, as more individuals obtain a degree the less middle class jobs are needed as higher paying jobs exist for those individuals. As a result, this leaves room for automation to take the place of middle class “routine” jobs.
Displacing the middle class jobs to higher paying positions, individuals with degrees could improve their chances of being employed at a higher position. But, this leaves concern for those not obtaining a degree. If automation was to become mainstream with job polarization occurring, would the standards of education increase creating more job opportunities? Or, would it create more unemployment, as some older individuals don’t have degrees?
In order for a job polarized society to run smoothly, there needs to be a balance between the high and low paying jobs. To achieve this, there needs to be no barriers of entry for lower class individuals. For example, education. Currently, some individuals cannot attend college because of financial difficulties, but if education was free, this could open opportunities for all individuals no matter their social class. If an individual works hard enough, they should be able to hold a higher paying position, despite their social class.
Past trends in technology
Looking back to the millennial year 2000, many speculated the world would “end” in part to the Y2K bug. During this time programmers feared computer programs would only be able to store two-figures, such as 00, creating the acronym Y2K or “year two kilo.” For many, this symbolized the beginning of a new era, with 00 being the beginning of time. For those unfamiliar with this event, a problem occurred in the coding of computerized systems, which was speculated to create havoc on computers and computer networks around the world at the beginning of the year 2000.
Considering this didn’t happen, can the same be said about our idea of “the future.?” Will automation just become a part of the society we currently know? Reflecting on previous industrial changes, I would speculate this to be the case, in the short term. The future isn’t going to just appear one day, it will gradually create itself over time, just as our society today. As a part of the digital era, we didn’t come across the internet in a day, it took three industrial revolutions to perfect it.
A great example of this is Google. Google is a company known worldwide for its advanced searches, free platforms and most recently its devices. Just think, the name we rely on today was nothing twenty years ago. Without the web (which also didn’t exist twenty years ago), we wouldn’t have the technology we utilize today.
Where does that leave us, as humans?
Unfortunately, there is no going back. Ever since the first industrial revolution, advancements in technology have permanently changed the infrastructure of our society. Unlike underdeveloped societies, who rely on tradition resources to survive, our society has centered itself around electricity and the internet to function. As a society, we have created machines to improve our standard of living, and because of this we have transformed our industrial methods, bringing us closer to a fully automated world.
For example, electronic devices today. The advanced features technology provided to users through, facial, voice and fingerprint recognition, touchscreens, etc., are slowly transforming the society we live in. Before the internet and cellphones, individuals had to find ways in which to communicate with other individuals. Whether it be meeting them in person, using a messenger, or investing in a house phone, individuals relied on one another to communicate. Today, that is not the case. If a person wanted to, they could stay in their home forever without leaving. The internet has given us the ability to pay bills, purchase products, and even communicate without the help of a physical person.
In a short period of time, our society has adapted the use of technology, and will continue to do so, unless the government steps in and restricts the specific technological advancements. As a developed country, we have the resources to fund, develop, and distribute technology throughout the U.S. and the world. For this reason, the U.S. and other developed nations will continue to support and produce technologically advanced products. Of course, that does not imply our society will become fully automated next year or the year after, it simply means technology will continue to change the way we see society.
Below are a couple links that examine our inevitable future, if technology continues to advance.
The last job on Earth: Imagining a fully automated world | Guardian Animations