Will a robot take my job?

“Will a robot take my job?”

In the twenty-first century, one just might. Increasingly, stories are popping up of hardworking Americans losing their jobs to an electronic, automatic, or otherwise robotic counterpart. Whether you work as a cashier, a farmer, or any other number of professions, your job is absolutely in danger. Robots produce our food, check us out at grocery stores, check is in at hotels, and soon, will replace our trusted health professionals for our medical exams. But perhaps the most aggravating thing of all is the persistence that robots are taking our jobs with. Unlike other problems facing our country, not only is there no good solution, but there isn’t any solution at all. With nearly all other problems facing our country, increases in technology can help solve the issue. With the robotic insurgence however, science only exasperates the issue. Every technological breakthrough seemingly brings more jobs into the realm of work robots can viably do better than us.  Robots of the future are predicted to build and clean our houses, drive our cars, and even fight our wars.  Although experts disagree on the specifics, the general theme is apparent: regardless of your occupation, your job is far from safe. This is of course, quite an alarming realization and in and of itself begs a long thought-out article. However, instead of focusing on whether a robot will or will not actually take your job, there is a more important question to ask:

 “Is a robot taking my job a bad thing?”

The point that major media likes to make is that if a robot takes your job, then you won’t have one, and that of course is a bad thing. But what If a robot could take your job in such a way that it wasn’t taking your job at all? What if robots could collectively decrease the human hours spent in the workforce, without taking jobs away from individual Americans? Hold this thought in your head –it’s going to be important. First though, we are going on a quick history lesson:

Thousands of years ago, the human race was little more than bands of hunter gatherers scattered across the globe. Because of the world they lived in, they were forced to migrate constantly, never settling down long enough to create anything significant. Without the benefits of agriculture, they literally did not have enough food to have any leisure. The entirety of their life was spent doing nothing more than surviving.  So they traveled from place to place hunting and gathering, not quite dying, but not truly developing either. They did this for roughly 300,000 years. Then, around 12,000 years ago, things started to change. Humans gradually learned to plant crops, domesticate animals, and finally settled down.  Over the course of the next 10,000 years, science and technology of all kinds exploded. Writing was invented, cities and monuments were created, and advanced farming techniques were pioneered. Great wars were fought, languages evolved, and people took to the seas to explore the world they lived in. In every way possible, the human race finally came into their own and created things. This new way to live was called ‘civilization’. Now, civilization was not a product of some grand genius that suddenly struck the human race and intrigued us into writing and other scholarly activities. No, the reason humans suddenly became civilized was because we literally had enough food to sit down and think long enough to invent new things and create a better world for ourselves. Because of agriculture and other more efficient ways of living, the collective human race had enough ‘free time’ to invent, create, and live life to its fullest. Perhaps then we only spent 95% of our life ‘surviving’. This was just the start however, as human history shows, there were another number of ‘efficiency increasing’ events that helped shape the fate the world. Some notable ones include democracy, the industrial revolution, and the renaissance. With each of these periods of time, or in the case of democracy, discoveries, the net efficiency of human labor was increased. In other words, we could spend less of our life ‘surviving’ and more time could be spent living.

This slow but steady increase in human efficiency didn’t only occur in ancient times. Even over the course of the last few hundred years we have seen increased human efficiency, to the point even, that not everybody in society need work to support the society as a whole. This is the point that I really want to make: not everybody in America needs to work to support everybody in America. What this means is that a fewer number of people are needed to support the entire civilization. In ancient times the ratio was 1:1 every able bodied person had to work their entire waking day just to keep society afloat. In the society we have today, that 1:1 ratio might look more like 2:1. Even if half of the US population stayed home, America wouldn’t go under. We would still produce enough food to feed everyone (we throw out 40% of our food), we would still produce enough goods and services, we could, in every way continue to function as America. Objectively this is a terrible idea, after all, why should only half of America work? How would we decide who had to work, and who got to stay home? But subjectively, the fact that America is so efficient we could viably do just that, is nothing less than brilliant. Still sound terrible? I have an example for you. When my great, great, great grandfather was pursuing his career, a working week consisted of 60 hours and children as young as seven or eight worked 12 hour days six days a week. My father however, works just 40 hours a week, which is just below the national average. If you do some simple math, you will find that Americans now work around 1/3 less than they did only a few hundred years ago. Imagine if we could promote, instead of fight against this efficiency. What if Americans could work only 30 hours a week and get a three-day weekend? History would suggest that we could do it and be just fine –but not if the workers in America insist that anything less than 40 hours a week is part-time and not if employers force Americans to work 40 hours a week just to support themselves. And that, brings us back to robots, and my second question:

“Is a robot taking my job a bad thing?”

The answer, is a resounding no. If a robot takes your job, without negatively affecting society then the robot is doing society a great favor. In ancient times, anybody who was not working was actively holding the society back –they still wanted a place to live and food to eat but they were not contributing to society. But if a robot can take your place in the workplace without negatively affecting it, then, as I said a moment ago, it has done society a great favor. Suddenly you were just granted a large amount of free time and in every measurable way society wouldn’t even notice. Imagine the great things we could create if we spent half the time we do working simple (yet necessary) jobs? Imagine working only 5 hours a day and getting Fridays off and having the rest of society not look down on you as a slacker? Imagine the great things that could be invented with the net human intellect figuratively doubled. Imagine how much happier everybody would be if we could spend less of our day just trying to survive. Imagine America so efficient that it could support itself with only a fraction of the human hours (every hour is precious!) that we spend today. Now realize, that that happy, efficient, futuristic America is within our grasp. The robots are not taking our jobs; they are granting us the freedom to simply not do them. So next time you read the headline “Will a robot take my job?” don’t shrink in fear, instead, cross your fingers and hope that one day they will. Hope that one day all jobs are done by robots and that Americans can finally do what they do best; invent stuff, play with their children, do science, create art, and spend a little more time each day living.

~Philip Othello.