Man vs Machine

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As the technology revolution continues and machines become increasingly more sophisticated, blue-collar jobs are susceptible to the threat of automation. Coming from a place where many of my family members make a living doing blue-collar work, I find the concept of automation very interesting. I am going to be entering the world of software engineering where I may contribute to the progress of automation, so will I be putting some of my family members out of work? I have always had a family first type of attitude, so I would certainly not be content knowing my occupation served as a threat to my family. After reading more about the consequences of automation, I have been inclined to side with the idea that individuals who are smart enough to replace jobs with machines are also smart enough to create new jobs for the workers they have uprooted.

I believe the creation of new jobs would follow with increased automation because I think human nature lends itself to altruism. I believe the top engineers and businessmen who propel automation forward will also be concerned for the people that will lose their jobs. This intelligent group of people should be able to understand that negative consequences of putting millions of people out of work. Before deploying enhanced automation, I believe this intelligent group of people should at least consider potential solutions for the displaced work force. With respect to the capitalistic market in America, I do not believe there exists an obligation to account for the displaced working class; however, I believe their exists an obvious ethical responsibility to care for fellow human beings. In a sense, I believe the best solution in a potential society where automation eliminates millions of jobs is human nature influencing those in charge to find ways to accomodate the resulting jobless population.

The concept of a society with basic income intrigues me, and I don’t think it suits the nature of human beings. I support the concept that human beings are (usually) driven by ambition to achieve some goal and work provides a path for pursuing those goals. In our society, work is not always just a way to make money – even for people who hate their jobs. Work provides satisfaction and fulfillment when tasks are completed as well as social interactions that are critical for human life. If basic income became a part of society, then I believe there would have to be some other outlet created for the social interactions that take place at work. Ideally, people would be able to creatively pursue their own ambitions and that instinct alone would prevent couch potato apathy. In my opinion, the missing part is a feedback loop. At work, people complete tasks which lead to increased wages, promotions, and the periodic paycheck. In a society where no one is held accountable for completing tasks and the paycheck is received regardless, would people truly be motivated to work?

I am not convinced citizens of a basic income society would be motivated to work. Part of my skepticism results from no incentive to pursue higher education which I believe is often the source of ambition. Without tertiary education, I think people are less likely to be driven to acquire jobs that are often associated with degrees. If blue-collar jobs are being done by machines, then a basic income lifestyle seems like a viable option. However, I may be underestimating the natural desire to work, in which case I could see a Luddite style revolt reoccuring. I can picture modern day Luddites raiding technology offices with power washers destroying all computers in sight, soaking servers and smashing laptops. Pardon my hyperbole, I do believe this is a serious matter that should be considered. I can at least affirm that if my software engineering career were to ever put me in a position where my work would displace humans, then I would place higher priority on the potential threat to working class Americans than the profitability of my work.

ZJL

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