How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bot

Posted on December 14, 2017

Right Now with Nick Smith
What I’m watching: AlphaZero vs Stockfish Chess Match Highlights by Danny Rensch
What I’m reading: The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson

ketchup robot
The future truly has unlimited potential

A headline in the New York Times reads “LABOR VERSUS MACHINES: AN EMPLOYMENT PUZZLE.” Sure, it’s a little sensational, but should we worry? The author goes on to say that “Technical progress made in the last decade stress anew discarding of men displaced in industry.”
Well, if that doesn’t make sense as written, it’s probably because the headline and the accompanying article are from all the way back on June 1st … of 1930.
bear is laughter

And yet, humans continue to worry about robots taking our jobs? For the planet’s apex predator, we are not very smart. I do have to say that I agree with Elon Musk when he predicted in February (of this year, don’t worry) that in the future, “There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better.” I mean, that’s just common sense.
After all, “the job-eating maw of technology now threatens even the nimblest and most expensively educated.” In a former life, I worked for the Navy on their nuclear reactors. This is a highly-educated, and highly-skilled position, and yet this February one of the million lists on the subject proclaimed that job one of the top ten most at risk from robots.
(Maybe writing lists about who’s going to get replaced by robots should get outsourced to robots?)
I have the luxury of working at a computer, and I can see this in a microcosm at my desk — there are dozens of tasks that I could perform every month but make more sense to automate, which both ensures that the work will be done perfectly, and that I’ll have time to do other things.
Office Hammock
Me, currently. Thanks Python!

But therein lies the proverbial rub: those other things. What are they — and what are they when you extrapolate from my desktop to the rest of the world of local government? Sure, depending on what you do now, your job might not exist in 100, 50, or even 2 years. But what will you and yours do with the skills you’ve accrued then? Certainly not nothing.
Let me just be the first to say that I don’t know. I mean, any prediction would be foolish, right? Who would have thought that when we automated cement mixing in the 1920s, it would indirectly lead to someone having the time (audacity?) to charge six times the minimum wage to snuggle you?
What I can say confidently is this: I can guarantee the best way to find out is by being proactive, and working on the problem before it works on us. There will be some missteps — like the Council Candidate who though he could ensure fairness by allowing the people to decide his votes through an app, or even the idea of removing the politicians from the politics altogether.*
But with technology constantly pressing the ways in which we can pursue our mundane goals in the office, why not use that time to explore new ways to deliver democracy to the people we serve?
After all,

“The machine does not isolate man from the great problems … but plunges him more deeply into them” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

* : Not saying this can’t or won’t ever happen, just that we’re not quite there right now
Also, since you’ve made it this far, can we just sit for a minute and appreciate “the job-eating maw of technology?”


Further reading:
World Economic Forum: The Future of Jobs
Joss Fong: Why the rise of the robots won’t mean the end of work

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