And what will we all do when due to technology we have nothing to do?

February 14, 2012

Some time ago I did a post on the fact that no job is safe from mechanization or, better put these days, from technological advancements.

It isn’t just mechanized ditch digger machines — my dad once told me they took the bread out of the mouths of thousands of Irishmen, and he was not Irish, just an old saying — but all kinds of office jobs. I mean you don’t see a typing pool anymore and you don’t even see nearly as many secretaries — everyone has their own computer keyboard at their desk and can do all those letters and memos themselves, even if they can’t spell correctly or punctuate (and computers don’t know if you used the correct word or what the syntax of your sentence was supposed to be, but I digress; I‘m getting off point).

I’m a truck driver and drivers often joke about how easy dispatchers have it (even though they know that is not necessarily so) and there is that joke that an empty trailer is as light as a load of dispatcher brains. But drivers know they need them, dispatchers that is, nonetheless.

A few years ago I read in a story about careers that the job of dispatcher was going the way of the buggy whip salesman, that automated phone systems and computers and so on would replace them. At the time, I was skeptical.

Now subsequently I did work for a time for a trucking company that did have a type of automated dispatch, but even there the whole system was still dependent upon the input of human dispatchers, very much so.

But I got an email from a trade journal, unsolicited, advertising some automated dispatch system, bragging that dispatchers were replaced by automation at 30 terminals at a major trucking company for a savings of more than a million dollars to that company.

As a truck driver that does not give me comfort. I can argue with a dispatcher (although not a good idea), but I can’t argue with a phone message. I can get help from a dispatcher (I have to admit, they can and do help at times), but the automated phone things just take you around on a continuous loop, as anyone who has ever badly needed to talk to someone at a commercial outfit knows.

The point here is not that it won’t work, the automation, the point is that no one is safe from being out of a job — like I said in the previous post, they’re experimenting with driverless trucks (one driver told me that is a train, but that is not what I meant, and even a train has an engineer, although that position could probably be more easily automated — and do you want a driverless train going through your town? While I am going off on a tangent here, I understand the Bay Area Rapid Transit trains are equipped to run themselves but due to safety concerns and politics they have operators).

And I ask once again, what will we all do when we really do have nothing to do? We can’t just all go out and play. I mean how do we distribute the tokens we call money?

ADD 1:

Just read a story in the LA Times online that the Pentagon wants FAA clearance to fly drones (pilotless aircraft) inside the United States. Seems it has more than 7,000 of them in the Middle East and with things winding down there somewhat it sees uses for them here — sounds quite George Orwellian to me! And I know I have heard there has been discussion about crewless aircraft to transport passengers. In our economic system the ultimate goal is to not have to pay people to do anything. At one time it was thought that machines and technology could do the heavy lifting and we as humans would reserve the efforts that require thinking for ourselves, but with artificial intelligence we have passed that threshold.