A nightmare?

Every now and then some commentators come up with a nightmare scenario where technology displaces a multitude of workers, creating hoards of jobless workers.

Just recently an alarmist article in the prestigious publication Foreign Affairs is the latest one predicting an era when many workers will be displaced by technology, left bereft of any meaningful work.

Such doomsters fail to know history or how the economy works.

With the advent of the internal combustion machine automobiles, it was implied that blacksmiths would become unemployed and horses would be displaced. Needless to say, on the contrary, new avenues of job opportunities arose.

More recently, it was a widely held opinion that television would destroy the motion picture business; this replete with similar misplaced predictions.

All but forgotten is history. Of course technology will make jobs obsolete. Witness the change in manufacturing over the past century. Clearly crucial changes will entail unemployment as robots can replace them.

It is argued that now things are different and that values created by innovation were trivial compared to what technology will mean for myriad workers. An economist with knowledge of history will call that view utter nonsense.

Needless to say, manufacturing will undergo probably the most significant industrial revolution since the advent of the steam engine. The factories of yore will become centres of 3-D production. Some workers in Windsor and Oshawa will be displaced.

No sensible commentator would suggest that technology not continue. However, the aforementioned article implied that governments must engage in redistributing income and wealth on a large scale as the income from intellectual property loses clout.

Perhaps social aspects of today’s workplace, congregating around an office water cooler, will become a thing of the past. However, the ongoing technological revolution will entail hitherto undreamt of opportunities.

To take just one illustration, post-secondary institutes will not merely be centres for thousands of youngsters, but centres of education for millions of people, not just the typical school graduates. Think of the opportunities that such widespread dissemination of knowledge will entail.

If society evolves so that widespread leisure ensues, glorious opportunities will unfold for all manner of cultural expression.

Even so called manual labour will remain in great demand, to protect the environment, clean up the oceans, rivers and waterways. Artistic expressions seem certain to flourish, benefiting mankind. Guaranteeing more access to health care, the results are incalculable.

The nightmare scenario of the future work will, as always, be dispelled by new opportunities created by our dynamic technological economy.



Bruce Whitestone