Robots for the Economy: What is Technological Unemployment?

Mar 02, 2017

Defining Technological Unemployment

Technological Unemployment is a phenomenon where new inventions change the nature of work, eliminating some specific jobs while also creating new higher paying jobs and launching entirely new industries.

Technological Unemployment In the Past

The question of whether technology will create unemployment is as old as the invention of the wheel. As far back as 350 B.C.E. Aristotle wrote that machines could one day eliminate the need for human labor. This anxiety about labor-saving technology has been a recurring pattern throughout history. During the Industrial Revolution, workers protested and destroyed machines because they feared their jobs would be eliminated. At the same time, many workers developed new skills and transitioned into new positions that required less effort for higher pay. More importantly, industrialization spurred overall economic growth.

John Kay, Inventor of the Fly-Shuttle, A.D. 1753,” by Ford Madox Brown. His painting depicts the inventor John Kay escaping a mob that was angry about his labor-saving mechanical loom which was a key contributor in the Industrial Revolution.

Two hundred years ago 70 percent of Americans lived and worked on farms, and today that number has shrunken to just two percent. While there is still a lingering nostalgia for the “good ol’ days,” yesterday’s farmers would wake up before dawn, toil in the fields all day until sunset, and then do it all over again, seven days per week. Since that time automation improved farming techniques, then factories hired millions of workers, and now the Internet has ushered in a new era of flexible, mobile workplaces. Over and over again, rather than creating "technological unemployment" machines have displaced heavy and repetitive labor while creating new opportunities. Automation created millions of jobs in entirely new fields that the weavers and farmers of the 1800's couldn’t have possibly imagined.

The Rise of a New Industry 4.0

Photo credit: www.nasdaq.com

Industrial robots are a modern example of technological displacement. Although new technology often eliminates some specific jobs, it also creates new positions, leads to entirely new industries, and benefits society as a whole. Robots are no exception: they take over the most mundane and dangerous tasks that are done by humans. At the same time, industrial robotics opens the door for automation that makes companies more profitable and creates opportunities for new careers and overall economic growth.

Today, we’re on the cusp of the next major upheaval in modern manufacturing, known as Industry 4.0. Robots won’t steal everyone’s jobs, but they will displace some, and that’s a good thing. In a healthy, growing economy, jobs that were important in the past will become outdated in the future. Tomorrow’s jobs will include more complexity, higher wages, and increased quality of life. New business models are emerging that could revolutionize the manufacturing industry.

Learn more about this exciting topic and others at SXSW 2017 in Austin, Texas. OTTO Motors CEO, Matt Rendall, will address the impacts of technological displacement and why the rise of robots are an evolution to provide a better way of life for people. The session will be held on March 14. Details are available here

By Meghan Hennessey