Where have all the jobs gone?
It seems hard to believe that it was a year ago that Britain was excited, but nervous about hosting the Olympic games of 2012. There were many voices of doom that predicted the games would be a disaster and we would embarrass ourselves as a nation. The doom-mongers were proven wrong and the 2012 games are recognised as being the most successful games ever and one of the most refreshing and innovative opening ceremonies to ever be seen.
The opening ceremony was a clever potted domestic history of Britain showing the traditional pastoral existence of working off the land being transformed by the Industrial Revolution and then in turn the changes that we have today in relation to society, benefits and technology.
In reality of course the transition portrayed of the First Industrial Revolution (approx. 1760 to 1840) didn’t happen overnight and it certainly wasn’t harmonious for millions of working people and their families. Farmers and workers lost their jobs to machines. There were population shifts, people and children exploited, un-safe working and some of the worst living conditions ever seen were created.
The second Industrial Revolution of 1840 to 1870, which saw the use of steam and electricity to power large-scale manufacturing didn’t produce an overnight change for the average man. It would take at least one or two generations before improvements in society could be seen and opportunities could be realised in complementary technologies. All the time though, the world’s GDP was going up, the world was getting richer - even if it didn’t feel that way to millions of people.
The Industrial Revolutions were all about multiplying our muscle power. We are now in the midst of another equally monumental revolution that in time will have its own name, perhaps: The Social, Machine, Digital or Technology Revolution. This revolution, though, is all about multiplying the power of the brain. This modern day revolution is changing the way that we have traditionally gone about our work and business. Robots or droids are taking our jobs and how do you operate in a society where so much is given away for nothing on the Internet?
Currently there has never been so much money held by so few: the wealthiest 300 people in the world have as much wealth as the poorest 3 Billion. Corporations’ have been making huge profit and are sitting on vast war chests of cash not knowing what to do with it. In the UK alone there is £700 Billion sitting in corporate accounts. The Dow Jones index has for the first time exceeded 15,000. Businesses as a whole are not hiring though. There were fewer people working in the USA in 2010 than 2000. This was the first time on record that this has happened. We are seeing the same stagnation in jobs that occurred during the Industrial Revolutions. The gap between the amount of workers and the amount of jobs is getting bigger and will continue to grow. Robots are not only doing work in factories and assembly lines they are, using algorithms to write press articles, trade in stocks and shares and are even carrying out complicated translations. Machines are now intelligent and are capable of learning whilst they work. Every industry will be affected from medicine to banking and legal to musical. Moore’s Law of doubling the power of computing every two years looks likely to hold true for at least another two decades. A child’s Play Station of today has more computing power than a military Super Computer of 1996. We are again in the situation where productivity is increasing without the need for hiring and in many cases with a lower head count. People are being left behind, how can a skilled worker compete against a computer?
So, if all jobs are to be done by machines is the working life of the human obsolete? In traditional working areas the answer is probably yes. What will we do? The Victorians believed that work prevented; boredom, vice and need, it’s hard not to agree with them. We will however have a fantastic opportunity to harness this technology and be free to address poverty, oppression, misery, exploitation, drudgery and the environment. Everything in the past will seem trivial compared to what could be done in this utopian future. We are currently seeing some complimentary industries surfacing and booming such as; personal coaching and training, experiential pursuits (restaurants, coffee shops, nail bars, cinema etc.) and of course social media.
What really needs to be addressed is what should we be teaching our children? Can you be sure that the subject in which they graduate will be needed in the future unknown world? Better content is required that is more relevant and closer to the world of today. Old staid education is not good enough. Why learn facts and figures when they can be obtained freely and instantly from the Internet? The students of today need to understand life and the consequences of actions. Technical schools and vocational working need to be encouraged. The world can be educated so much more cheaply and equally by using technology.
This latest revolution needs to be embraced. There is much to be optimistic about but economies are going to be run on ideas and not on traditional pursuits. The best working days are ahead of us, not in the past.