Change: Can it be good for everyone? | Chapter 13
Published October 3, 2022
Throughout history, people have worried that new technologies would replace human workers and make it more difficult to find jobs. But these disruptions were temporary, while the benefits to society were large and permanent. Future technologies will continue to change the way we work, but they’ll also open new opportunities for us to become more prosperous than ever.
How has technology changed in your lifetime?
A world without change would get pretty boring pretty fast. Sure, things wouldn’t get any worse, but they wouldn’t get any better, either.
The world is constantly changing, from fashion trends to the latest entertainment options. And some of the biggest changes that impact our lives and prosperity have to do with technology.
A new wearable device helps people monitor their health. An updated production process makes it easier and faster to manufacture emergency supplies for disaster response. Innovative communication tools let students access online education from wherever they are.
Future innovations will continue to change how we work and live. Artificial Intelligence, 3D printing, robotics—these advancements improve lives and create opportunities, but they’re also disruptive, and not everyone welcomes disruption, especially when the believe it could threaten their livelihood.
Yep, we’re talking about the fear that robots will steal our jobs.
It’s not necessarily a new concern. More than 200 years ago, British textile factories invested in new machines that would make workers’ jobs easier. The employees were thrilled!
Just kidding—they smashed the machines.
Because the new machines could take on so much of the production, workers worried the factories wouldn’t need as many employees, and they didn’t want to lose their jobs.
Since then, the rate of technological advancement has only accelerated. Take farming.
For the majority of human history, most people worked in farming, simply because that was the only way to produce enough food. Eventually, new inventions and better practices made it easier to grow more crops with fewer and fewer workers.
So what happened to the workers who weren’t needed on the farm anymore? They found other paths to prosperity—starting businesses, doing research, learning trades, making art. The transition wasn’t always smooth, but in the end it was ultimately better for pretty much everyone. These new opportunities improved the quality of life and expanded the economy.
Similar scenarios played out over the years as technological advancement accelerated. Buttons replaced human elevator operators. Assembly lines and automation reduced the number of workers needed to build cars. Digital cameras arrived and wiped out much of the film photography business.
New technologies definitely transformed these industries. They made work more efficient and employees more productive, which ultimately increased wages, because employees’ work was more valuable to their employers.
Today’s technology will change our economy in unimaginable ways, promising more choice and lower costs for all of us. And, just as important, these disruptions will lead to new jobs and opportunities that can ultimately make our lives more prosperous.