For the past several hundred years, workers have been worried about the possibility for computers and technology to take their jobs. The thinking has always been that if a machine worked a job that a person otherwise would work, that person would lose their job and become destitute. But this was often only half of the story. Far from being a constant job killer, new technology and automation often helped lead to a greater level of economic growth than was previously thought possible.
Automation began to affect jobs negatively in the early years of the Industrial Revolution. Most famously, the Luddites believed that new looms would destroy their jobs make clothing and textiles by hand. This was indeed true, but the new looms and textile machines also created numerous opportunities. New factories employed many thousands more people than the earlier hand-made, home-based clothing crafts. People had to be hired to work on machines and market products that the machines made. Factories also allowed a cash economy to flourish which allowed millions to buy the products made by machines, while the earlier Luddite clothes could only be bought by the handful of people that the Luddites came into contact with.
The process of industrial growth and expansion occurred everywhere that factories came to. People believed that they would lose their jobs, but then flourished in the influx of cash and jobs caused by the new automation. The same was true throughout the 20th century as robots stepped in to replace automobile jobs. Instead of being trained simply to pull levers or push buttons, workers in auto plants were now trained on the intricacies of robotics. This new training meant that they would be equipped for multiple jobs that would end up paying more in the future than their earlier jobs before automation.
Now, there is a boom of these new automated jobs in the form of service jobs on the internet, including jobs in forums like Youtube or TaskRabbit. Many people can use new skills and different skills than they used before this period of automation. People are given the license to be more creative, and anyone has the chance to go “viral” and become an internationally known millionaire overnight.
There will have to be preparation for this economy after a greater expansion of automation. Skills such as creativity, emotional intelligence, and technological know-how will be incredibly important. Employees will be selected more based on their ability to convey their ideas and work a computer. But if they master these skills, people will be able to make money and gain exposure like never before.
Just like the Luddites, many people today are worried about the role automation will play in the jobs of the future. Those who are worried should take a step back and look at the millions of jobs that automation has created over the past three centuries, and the ways in which automation has aided many people that the practice has touched. Then, perhaps people will start to see that they should adapt to the growing economy and discover ways to make money using its newfound opportunities, instead of always worrying about the possibility of change.