Yesterday, The Guardian published a provocative opinion piece titled, “Are Robots Going To Steal Your Job? Probably.”
At first glance, the author’s pessimism would seem justified. From robotic gardeners and farmers to robotic pizza delivery services, it seems like every day robots make new forays into jobs traditionally done by humans.
But pause to consider technology in historical perspective. Pessimism about new technologies is not new. In 1918, people decried automobiles for destroying the livery stable business. In the early 1800s, frustrated textile workers known as “Luddites” famously smashed apart mechanized looms. The Guardian author himself admits that his fears echo those of the Luddites:
"This is not a new concern. Since at least as early as the time of the Luddites, in early 19th-century Britain, new technologies have caused fear about the inevitable changes they bring."
The Luddites and livery stable proprietors were correct to realize that new machines would utterly change their industries, but they failed to appreciate the overall effects of new technologies on human wellbeing.
Banning mechanized looms would have prevented everyone from enjoying cheaper clothing. Similarly, banning automobiles would have robbed everyone of enjoying modern transportation.
It is certainly true that technological change makes some jobs obsolete, but it has also made humanity better off in many ways. Importantly, it has led to the creation of new jobs.
In fact, technological progress tends to create more jobs than it destroys. The new jobs tend to be better, while the eliminated jobs tend to be difficult and dangerous.
The debate over the precise ways in which robots will affect human employment, productivity, incomes, leisure time, and living standards rages on. Cato’s upcoming forum, “Will a Robot Take Your Job?” will tackle these questions and more. Please consider registering here.
Chelsea Follett is the managing editor of HumanProgress.org.
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