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Rise Of The Machines: What will become of box-watchers, delivery drivers?

Recession + mechanisation = Neo tech Luddites

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Blocks and Files In the world of storage tech, progress is a holy grail, never questioned, never doubted. Anything that adds data access capacity, data access speed and data access security is a good thing. Who can doubt it? The world has a seemingly insatiable appetite for storing and accessing data and as we feed the ravening beast, so our businesses become more and more efficient.

But is tech progress always a good thing? Storage tech is used by Google to hold its Maps, Street View and GPS data, enabling its pioneering driverless-car technology to be developed. This should be good because it'll free up drivers to do something productive or enjoyable instead of sitting in rush hour commute traffic jams. Driverless cars can avoid human error accidents and will probably make better use of fuel. All good, right?

OK. Let's assume the technology works and we get driverless trucks, delivery vehicles, coaches, buses and trains. Ten million, give or take, drivers will then lose their jobs in the USA and another five million enter unemployment in Europe. Still a good thing?

What will they do, these unemployed drivers? They can't retrain as storage technology engineers. They aren't, generally speaking, entrepreneurs, and it would take more than a few years and money they don't have to retrain to become lawyers, accountants - join the "skilled" professions. What I'm seeing is that the jobs for which this group of workers are equipped are shrinking in number. LA already has enough coffee bar baristas, hairdressers, gardeners, and other service industry jobs, and so does New York, Boston, Atlanta, Detroit and anywhere else you care to mention.

Google car

Google's driverless car

We could say drivers are a subset of machine-minding occupations, a skilled subset to be sure, and machine-minding is dying out as technology makes machines cleverer and more autonomous.

If self-driving vehicles cause 10 million drivers to hit the welfare rolls in the USA, and five million more in Europe do the same, then is that technology a good thing?

Business people might say that anything that reduces business costs is good. But business ultimately relies on people buying goods and services - and 10 million unemployed drivers aren't going to do that. If technology advances, when implemented, reduce the ability of a population to buy stuff and so, overall, impoverish a nation and its businesses, should we be more careful about our implementation of those advances?

What a question to ask, I hear you you say... You thought Luddism had died out in the nineteenth century.

Luddites, old and new

The Luddites, who opposed early industrial revolution mechanisation because it put people out of work, were ultimately wrong in the long term because demand for goods made by machines rocketed and the USA, the UK, and other countries made megabucks exporting goods overseas.

But now many of the goods we buy are made overseas. It's hard to see how driverless cars can result in a favourable result, that the developed world can rely on less technologically advanced countries forever buying up all of our goods and services to the point that fifteen million sacked drivers get equivalent or better jobs doing something else. What happens when the developing world catches up?

Also, could putting millions of people out of work be considered to be "do[ing] no evil?"

Who draws the line? ®

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