Originally published in The Huffington Post
Searches in Google, finding friends through Facebook, amazing apps on our even more amazing iPhones, rants on Twitter and being able to buy simply anything on Amazon have all been made possible thanks to major leaps forward in technology over the past 15 years. However, at what price?
The more our lives are automated, the more people are losing their jobs at an alarming and growing rate. The numbers are startling and the irony in all this is troubling, to say the least. While new technological advances pave the path for new job opportunities, does the math add up to render a growing economy? Or are the super-rich just getting richer, and we little guys forgotten more than ever before?
Advancing technology has not delivered jobs as it should. At the end of 2015 a total of 74,505 employees were working for Google’s Alphabet and Facebook, comprising to less than a third of Microsoft. However, twice as big is their combined stock-market value. Remember that Facebook acquired Instagram back in 2012 at a price of $1billion when it only had 13 employees. As companies began to shift hardware production factories outside of the U.S. there was a lesser need to hire workers, and newcomer tech giants in the market are in need of even fewer workers. As a result, technology startups, productivity and wages all decreased, while income inequality continued to rise. The phenomenon of machines replacing ordinary human beings at low or medium wage jobs went into high gear.
Ordinary workers in America were highly encouraged by the economic boom of the 1990s. Then U.S. President Bill Clinton used in his last State of the Union speech in 2000 promised his country would “lead the world toward shared peace and prosperity, and the far frontiers of science and technology.” What we witnessed was anything but that. As the U.S. led the charge in the “war against terror,” in came the devastating political and social impacts across the globe. In the economic spectre, there was no sign of the “rapid technological change” to help the U.S. economy grow. The tech economy in America suffered deeply from the 2001 recession and the growing globalisation trend that saw jobs shifting across the waters. Despite their 1990s rise, computer and electronic firms began laying off their workers, plunging from 1.87 million in 2001 to 1.03 million now in 2016. In this same period semiconductor manufacturers slashed their number of workers by half to just 359,000.
Concerns on this side of the Atlantic are also on the rise, as experts indicate in the next 20 years 35 percent of British jobs are on the verge of being eliminated as a result of technology advancing in computing and robotics. This means a wipe out of over one in three roles in the UK’s already troubled economy over Brexit woes. Most likely to go are repetitive positions that earn low-pay. Those living on an income of less than £30,000 a year are much more likely, five times to be exact, to witness some kind of machine taking over their job, in comparison to those earning £100,000.
China taking advantage
One very specific case of tech companies shifting jobs across the seas can be seen in Micron. Up to 2013 this firm was employing 11,300 workers inside the United States, already down from 14,000 back in 2000. However, there was an immediate surge in the company’s non-American workforce from 4,800 to a whopping 19,600, mainly located in China and other Asian countries with cheap labour. That is a near 400% increase. The U.K., too, has lost its share of jobs. With China pouring cheap steel into European markets, thousands of British workers are losing their jobs as their companies cannot cope with the rivalry and are forced into major layoffs and eventual shutdowns. Other reports indicate 159,000 manufacturing jobs across the U.K. were lost in the span of just three months up to September. While this section of British economy was booming just recently, the job numbers have sunk to 3.6 million, setting a record low.
Is there any growth?
Despite major concerns about the future of jobs and the economy in general, 140 years of data has shown technology as a whole has actually brought to life more jobs than it has ended. Technology has been described as a “great job-creating machine,” according to economists at the Deloitte consultancy. Bar staff has quadrupled from the 1950s to this day, in addition to the rising number of hairdressings, indicating technology is placing more money in people’s pockets to spend. While roles in the agriculture, washers and launderers, examples of repetitive services, have decreased, there has most definitely been a rise in caring posts, such as teaching, educational support assistants; welfare, housing, youth and community workers; and care workers and home caring.
Experts sharing such views believe the media has been biased in skewing attention towards robots taking over our jobs and making the entire ordeal similar to a science-fiction movie where our lives will eventually be controlled by machines.
Employment in general, and especially in computer and electronic firms, rose significantly in the 1990s. Those numbers have dropped drastically-as much as 40 percent in some cases-despite a smaller number and more technical type of jobs being born in other branches.
The aging battle between man and machine will continue as it has for centuries. The question is are machines taking over our jobs, or is our workload being eased by their presence? This will be an ongoing debate especially with the current rise in artificial intelligence and machine learning technology.