Will Increasing Minimum Wage Accelerate the Race to Automate?

We have grown used to automation: it’s everywhere in our daily lives, including our phones, even supermarket doors. And now – it might replace humans.

I know that sounds like a fear-mongering line from a dystopian novel, but is it really far from the truth? Wars raging on for decades to claim resources, irreversible environmental damage threatening humanity, the potential of Donald Trump becoming the head of the most powerful military in the world… Yep, it’s a terrifying thought and just to add insult to injury, your increase of salary might result in the rise of robots – job-stealing robots. How, you ask? Well, read on to find out how the increase of the minimum wage will accelerate the race to automate.

It’s Already Happening

It’s not exactly breaking news that many companies are already flirting with the idea of using automated drones to deliver their products. Companies like DHL, UPS, Amazon, and eBay are dedicating money and resources to implementing this automation. In fact, a pizzeria in Mumbai, India has already started delivering pizzas to skyscrapers in the area… even though it might be less than legal. Here’s Mr. Moonshot himself, Astro Teller, the head of Google’s experimental lab Google X, explaining how the use of drones can revolutionize the economy and commerce.

If these companies can actually implement a drone delivery service, then delivery people will become redundant… and the more delivery people are cutting into the companies’ products, the quicker companies are going to try to stop that – but this is just the beginning. To really see the cause and effect, we have to go back to the Industrial Revolution.

Technological Unemployment

chinese factory   The Japan Times        

Although this term existed previously, John Maynard Keynes made it popular in the 1930s. Basically, it means jobs that become obsolete through the wide acceptance of technology. This has already happened multiple times throughout history and has preoccupied theorists since the time of Aristotle… yes, for that long.

There are two schools of thought regarding technological unemployment. The first argues that, although people lose their jobs because of automation, many people are employed to support the automation technology. On the other side of the argument, you have the people that believe that jobs replaced by technology are just lost and aren’t ever replaced.

Oh, and there’s a third school of thought regarding robots, automation, and technological unemployment that isn’t frequently mentioned because, honestly, it’s a bit kooky. This third group takes the term “robot” literally which comes from the Czech word “robota” which translates literally to forced labor. Okay, I realize that this is an already winded description but, in essence, they believe that technology will eventually make all jobs redundant, thus allowing us to pursue anything we like instead of working, a technologically-induced Utopia, if you will.

Decimating the Middle Class

Upon the mass adaptation of certain automated processes, the first socioeconomic class to feel the “job-vacuum” is generally the middle class, so for a very small period of time, the middle collapses. At the same time, though, new members are added to the middle class in the form of unskilled laborers that augment or assist the automated process. To illustrate: textile artisans actually went on an automated loom-trashing campaign because this new technology allowed the production of cloth to become cheap and affordable, thus rendering the artisans obsolete. At the same time, though, the unskilled laborers that were hired to run the machines started emerging from the lower class to join the middle class. This is not the only observable effect technology has on the middle class.

Jobs on opposite sides of the skill gamut increase as technology takes over, so even though the artisan was replaced with the automatic loom, the need for people that gathered the raw material for thread increased exponentially, as did the need for tailors to make clothes from the now considerably more affordable cloth. In a modern context, although software and technology might have made the clerical worker redundant, more jobs for tech-savvy freelancers have emerged and productivity has increased on the higher tiers of the corporate world. Again, the middle class is immediately hit but it then recovers by gaining members.

Rise of the Abstract and Creative Thinkers

plato   The Guardian        

Computers are great at taking crippling amounts of straightforward data and sifting through them to find relevant information. They’re really not that great at being creative or thinking abstractly, thus the mass adaptation of productivity tools is actually giving rise to people that are trained or able to do what computers suck at: creativity and abstract thinking. Designers, advertisers, problem-solvers, and people with highly developed interpersonal skills are becoming highly sought-after commodities in this automated economy. So, yeah, maybe your job will be gobbled up by an LED-eyed robot, but that would happen, anyway, if you didn’t invest in personal and professional development. A young sleeker, less doughy, and more knowledgeable you would show up and snatch your job right up, so don’t blame technology; blame yourself.

How do you think technology will influence the job market? Do you think it’s a human or a robot writing this? Let us know in the comments section below!