Picture yourself in the middle of a large open hall. The walls around you are vast and stretch high above, but your eye is drawn to the far end of the space where a giant machine hangs on the wall. Filling almost the entire wall the instrument dances with frantic motion across its surface.
As you approach, its vast size makes it hard to take in but reminds you of the inner workings of a clock. Millions of various sized gears connected to each other across a flat expanse adorn your view. As you get ever closer the clicking from each gear fills your ears as the sounds swirl around the room like a deafening industrial symphony. From this vantage point you can see how each gear contributes to the whole motion of the great machine with every turn contributing to a stream of gold liquid flowing out of the top of the structure.
What you are staring at is the engine room of civilisation, the machine of capitalism that fuels our society and places money as the driving force of progress. We as workers are the individual gears that each day turn and contribute to the overall movement of the colossal machine. With this daily routine we make money for ourselves, for the company we work at and ultimately the country we live in.
THE CLICKING OF EACH GEAR FILLS YOUR EARS AS THE SOUNDS SWIRL AROUND THE ROOM LIKE A DEAFENING INDUSTRIAL SYMPHONY
However, it’s unusual to view capitalism at this level. In practice it is managed on a company by company level, with each respective business leader taking responsibility for only their workforce. This approach is akin to giving four people the responsibility of one wheel each on a car and expecting them to drive in a controlled manner. Each individual will ensure that their own wheel is performing well but nobody is there to see the overall picture and steer the vehicle. And it is this lack of overall control and direction that can prevent us from anticipating pitfalls such as recessions and the topic of this post.
By having this ‘island’ approach we see business leader’s striving to streamline their own company, to keep productivity high and costs low. And in recent years there has been a precursor of the future in the shape of offshoring jobs. Offshoring allows a business to move a group of lower skilled jobs to a country with competent workers but lower wage expectations. In doing this they achieve the goal of maintaining productivity and lowering costs. This is a win for the company and it is not their concern if there is a reduction in available jobs in the origin country as a result.
To the onshore workers who find themselves unemployed as a consequence it seems like a brutal process (UK call centre workers have experienced this in recent years as many of their jobs have moved overseas) but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. The machine has one goal and that is to increase profit, everything else is a secondary concern.
It all means that displacing jobs abroad and paying lower wages for an equal quality of work is one of the easiest decisions business leaders have ever had to make, and it is a decision that will be replicated in the coming years as a new potential group of employees becomes available.
This a group very much approaching on the horizon with an eye on our jobs and a promise to perform it 24 hours a day with no rest or wage and an interconnectedness even the most prolific networker couldn’t rival. It’s a group that has been slowly becoming more skilled in the areas humans excel and in many spaces they have already surpassed us. The group is made up of the many shapes and sizes of modern and future technology.
EVERYWHERE WE LOOK TODAY WE ARE SEEING THE EARLY SIGNS OF A TRANSITION FROM HUMAN WORKERS TO A RELIANCE ON TECHNOLOGY
Everywhere we look today we are beginning to see the early signs of a transition from human workers to a reliance on technology. When walking into a bank no longer are we greeted by the sight of hurried bank clerks but instead the gentle hum of machines catering for the many common requests. At the end of a supermarket shop the long line of human cashiers has been broken by a block of self-service machines waiting to serve you with little need for human assistance.
When travelling the country we see former call centre buildings standing empty as a new breed of websites now take the brunt of basic customer questions. Want to ring a ticket line or place an order for something over the phone? In today’s world you are just as likely to be met by the sound of a recorded voice with voice recognition as you are to talk to an actual human.
And the changes won’t stop there. Soon logistic firms will face the very real question of whether they want to continue employing lorry drivers who demand a wage and time to sleep, or the decedents of today’s autonomous vehicles currently being tested by companies such as Google and Ford on the roads of California – a driverless lorry controlled by sophisticated technology that demands no wage and is willing to work 24 hours, 7 days a week.
Even the more skilled jobs won’t be safe as computer software with artificial intelligence learn to take on jobs traditionally covered by human specialists such as scientists, economists and analysts. These roles play a big part in society’s success or failure and even today are heavily reliant on technology – think of a human vs a calculator in a mental arithmetic test.
In modern times technology is like a screwdriver, a tool used by humans to answer a question or perform a task that is required. But in the centuries to come, computers will become increasingly more capable until they outperform the human brain in every aspect. No longer will they be a tool waiting for our use, instead they will be asking and solving problems more complicated than we can even perceive. Humanity will be shifted into second place as computers become the great thinkers on this planet.
THE DAWN OF A NEW AGE, AN AGE OF FREEDOM AND AN EXPLOSION OF CREATIVITY
So what are we concluding? That in the future all jobs will be taken by future technology and humans will starve on the streets with no work to pay their bills? Not exactly. Instead it could be a great moment in human history, a turning point that releases humans from the need to work and frees them to pursue more creative pursuits.
It could be the dawn of a new age, an age of freedom and an explosion of creativity, but it’s likely to be a rough transition. It’ll take time for the world to change and first there will be many people who find themselves sitting at home, out of work with a low bank balance, as a self-checkout machine or driverless car replaces their gear on the great machine of capitalism.