icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

The Robots Are Coming, The Robots Are Coming

Knowing my concerns about the danger of robots making the already corrosive economic inequality in our country even worse, a friend and former colleague of mine passed on a blog post that is a must read: The Real Story of Automation Beginning With One Simple Chart by Scott Santens. The one simple chart shows that when the number of oil rigs began to rebound after the 2016 decline in oil prices, the number of oil and gas industry employees didn't budge. The reason? Robotic "Iron Roughnecks" now perform the repetitive task of connecting drill pipe segments as the well is drilled deeper and deeper. What once took a crew of 20, will soon take a crew of 5.

The trend is difficult to ignore. And there are so many other good points in Santens's lengthy post, that I'm compelled to highlight a few of them for those of you who might not read it in its entirety.

—Every new industrial robot installed from 1993 to 2007 replaced about 5.6 workers, and every additional robot per 1,000 workers reduced the total population employed by 0.34% and also reduced wages by 0.5%.

—It's predicted that our current industrial robot workforce will quadruple by 2025, translating into a loss of up to 3.4 million jobs.

— Thanks to automation, manufacturing production in the US has increased almost 20% since 1975, while the number of manufacturing jobs has decreased almost 5%.

And that's just industrial robots. As robotics moves off the factory floor, and into service businesses like trucking and fast food, the impact will be heightened exponentially. And they will move into those businesses sooner than you think. As Andy Puzder, Trump's would-be Secretary of Labor and former CEO of hamburger-chain Carl's Jr. told Business Insider, robots are "always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there's never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case."

As Santens says, in true but heartbreaking fashion, technological employment is real. "We've pretended that everyone just went on to find new paid work, without critically evaluating the nature of that paid work. Unemployment isn't a problem, right, because the unemployment rate is at a record low? Tell that to the person who went from a 40-hour per week career with benefits, working 80 hours per week to earn less total income in a far more insecure life just trying to get by each month. Tell that to the person who feels marriage has become something only the rich can afford any more. Tell that to the person who attempted suicide, or self-medicated their depression with opioids after their town's manufacturing plant closed down, obliterating their town's local economy and leaving them with no means of paying others for their own existence."

I urge you: Read the whole post and weep.

If you want future blogs to be sent directly to your emailbox, please click here!

Be the first to comment