Select Page

Robots are coming to take our jobs

Originally, when I started this, I was going to write something really scary. According to the Guardian Newspaper today, about one in five jobs will become victim to robots. Think of it, machines are more accurate, quicker, they never tire out, they don’t join unions and they will do boring jobs without complaints and without stopping for a cigarette.

But in fact, robots are only the latest arm of an automation process that has been going on for years. You may be aware of the Luddite riots of the early 1800s. Then it was power looms that were replacing the jobs of hand-weavers, throwing them into unemployment. And, if you think about it, mechanisation, computerisation and automation have been doing pretty much the same thing ever since. It’s a long time since piles of dockworkers used to climb the gangplanks of ships to empty the casks, containers and products that would be loose packed into ships. Now they come in staddard sized containers, which are unloaded by giant cranes moving to a schedule which drop the cargo straight on to lorries for their ongoing journeys. Thousands of worker have been replaced by a few men who can see the world and move it.

When Redundant Man was young, every manager had a secretary: in fact, many aspired to it as the sign that they were the coming people. Letters were typed in the typing pool, sent back for amendment and then finally posted out to the recipient. How did they survive?

Typing pools are no more. Instead, we type and receive our own emails, send our own texts, indulge in Whatsapp conversations.

Robots are only the next generation

Imagine the scene, not too long in the future. Instead of the Amazon warehouse being full of casual labour, it will be full of machines silently picking up your books and gifts, picking and replacing more accurately than any human. Pharmacies will see robots picking and selecting our drugs quicker and more accurately than we can ever do. Because they are learning creatures, they will be able to learn and plan their environment for the most productive ways of managing inventory. Lorries will no longer have some tattooed arm hanging out of them, but will be guided by unseen satellite imagery and sensors that will make the whole trucking world redundant. Airports wont need people to sort your luggage, because machines will do it for you. Once you have your luggage, your self-drive car will whisk you away to your journeys end. And when you get home the place will be cleaned by your friendly cleaning robot and a cup of tea will be waiting for you.

It’s not the robotics, it’s what you do with the savings

The point about much of this is that it is inevitable. There is nothing you can do about it. This is bad news for all of you who identify themselves by the jobs they do. Even more so, if the job happens to be warehouseman. But, no, the biggest threat comes from the way in which the productivity machines generate is turned into profits which never reach the rest of society.

The biggest companies in the world have proved how adept they are at not paying their societal dues. Profits go to secret bank accounts and not into the taxes that would allow the people made redundant to gain some respectability and to start to live the social life they were supposed to do. Work, for many people, is not just about money, it is the way people socialise and use their collective strengths to make things happen and to communicate with one another. Robotics is another area that has a social impact far greater than we realise. There is no point going into the whole robotic world without serious consideration of what is in it socially for the majority of us. Part of the money they save should be ploughed back into things that do us good and don’t just throw people on to the scrap heap.