Over the last few decades, many alarmists have stated that the day would come when most jobs would be replaced by machines or robots. While it has proven true that technology has taken over certain vocations, there is no sign of an end to human employment in this or any future society. There are many reasons this is true.
To begin with, any job that is taken over by some form of technology may be at least partly replaced by a job building, maintaining, or otherwise handling that technology.
When robotic welding began to be used in the automotive industry, it did supplant human workers who had previously done the welding. But the robotic welders had to be built and maintained, and there continued to be jobs doing that work.
And in many cases, the job building and maintaining the robot paid better and was safer than the welding job it replaced.
But a food chain of jobs isn’t the entire story. What will preserve some jobs perpetually is their complexity. To date, no programming, no processor, no technology can replicate the ability of a human worker to use judgment to make decisions based on criteria provided beforehand and an analysis of a particular situation. Even the smartest machines can’t do that right now, and it seems unlikely that any effort to build that into them would be so burdensome as to be economically impractical.
Even in the middle ground, there is still a need for human guidance. Robotic-assisted surgery is becoming commonplace, mainly because robots don’t get in a hurry to make a tee time and end up botching a procedure. But the robot is still an assistant, operated at the hands of a trained human being who can continuously monitor all factors involved in surgery and ensure the patient is being treated properly.
Another good example is crime scene cleanup jobs. There is certainly an expanded role for tech in these situations, as equipment and instruments can help to analyze the situation and determine if there are contaminants or evidence present that needs to be dealt with.
The good news is that technology can still do the things humans don’t want to do or shouldn’t have to do. The military and many larger law enforcement agencies are utilizing bomb disposal robots to defuse (literally) dangerous situations. This is an ideal arrangement, because any mayor or governor would prefer to buy an expensive replacement than to see a human injured or killed. Robots can also be very effective in these delicate situations because they don’t get nervous.
But that brings us back to humans. The need for judgment and emotion is still powerful in countless jobs. Sure, a computer can have a queue of songs and commercials to air at a radio station, programmed in over the course of a few minutes by someone with a terrible radio voice. But can that computer interrupt with breaking news in a way that conveys the urgency of a natural disaster or an escaped killer?
What is clear from these examples is that we will probably see continued growth in the use of technology to replace human workers, when those jobs are particular dangerous or meticulous, or when they involve excruciating monotony.
Technology doesn’t get scared, doesn’t get clumsy, and doesn’t get bored. But as these jobs evolve into automated processes, there will still have to be a significant human element to build it, maintain it, and guide it to keep it from making the mistakes that a lack of judgment and critical thinking can permit. And that is something that will never change.