I absolutely hate those super trendy commercials showing young people completely enamored with their “apps,” “social media,” and “mobile devices.” Sure, this “technology” feeds their insatiable appetites for a non-stop stream of mindless “content.” But what the kids don’t realize is that this same technology, while well-suited to their short attention spans, is also taking away their jobs—or preventing them from landing jobs in the first place. In Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, Martin Ford explains how robots—or, more accurately, smart algorithms that know how to teach themselves—are now doing jobs that college grads used to do. This, in turn, forces a very large percentage of college grads into jobs that do not, in any imaginable way, require a college degree. Then, the workers that would typically have held those unskilled jobs are forced into long-term or even permanent unemployment or underemployment.
And few jobs are safe. It’s not just factory jobs (long gone) or agriculture jobs (long, long gone) that are affected; robots are now even capable of making burgers, driving cars, reviewing legal documents, writing sports and news articles, and—much to my disdain—answering and routing phone calls for giant corporations.
Alarmingly, more education—the solution to the job displacement created by past technological advances—won’t work this time. Lawyers, engineers, journalists, computer scientists, and even some types of medical doctors have been or are being displaced by the machines. And worst of all, the financial benefits that result from displacing humans are being concentrated in the hands a very few—something that didn’t happen with productivity gains of the past.
If all of this sounds familiar, it should. As Ford acknowledges, people have feared technology for centuries. However, Ford writes, there are many reasons to believe that this time things could be different for us—and not in a good way.
If Ford is correct, then it would turn out that the Luddites were right—their idea was just 200 years ahead of its time.