At the turn of the 20th century, the Industrial Revolution brought about a great many series of changes that would prove to improve the quality of life for the average middle class American. However these rapid changes also brought amount much fear and uncertainty about the future.
As Henry Ford’s automated production line made great strides in efficiency, the average factory could now produce an output 100 fold of what it could on human labor alone. While the line created a great many jobs, it also brought about questions of where the line would be drawn and if a day would ever come where production could completely replace and make obsolete the human worker.
Now in this new century, things are no different. Big corporations and multi national conglomerates are constantly seeking to seeking to increase efficiency, decrease costs, and as a result deflate the headcount of their workforce. While many have decried the all to ubiquitous practice of outsourcing domestic labor for cheaper overseas workers, just to add to the bottom line, the real threat is to the eventual reality that a paid live person will be completely unnecessary in the first place.
The good news is that a computer or robot will able to take over the menial and mind numbing jobs such as cleaning your carpets. The bad news is that you might not be able to afford carpets in the first place if you lose your job.
So what is the average worker to do, when faced with these facts? Should we now be afraid? Should we be pinching every last penny, or hoarding suitcases full of dollar bills in preparation for the inevitable layoffs that will follow the great robotic and artificial intelligence revolution?
The author Seth Godin argues that if you are simply doing a series of mundane tasks that you wait for a supervisor to assign to you, than you are replaceable, and as a rule you will be replaced as soon as the company can find someone (or something in terms of a machine) to do the job cheaper than you. Thus, Godin emphasizes, we must all become innovators and rely on our creative intelligence rather than our ability to just be ‘hard workers’ which really means direction-takers.
A computer can take millions of directions every second, at a blistering number of computations every moment that our mammalian brain could never possibly compete with. But what a computer has not been able to do yet is to invent something completely new, or pursue a really creative endeavor. This is where our edge still lies with the machines, and must be our thinking in future years to come unless we are willing to take the risk of going the way of the dinosaur or dodo bird and fading into a soon forgotten obsolesce.