In our society, we are conditioned to celebrate technological advancements almost blindly. A large number of Americans have celebrated technologies that increase the efficiency and effectiveness of agriculture, automobile production and maintenance, household goods and medicine. From the standpoint of “making things function quicker and more accurately,” technology has revolutionized and will keep revolutionizing the way of how we live and do business in this country. How can anybody deny that we drive safer, more efficient and more comfortable cars today than back in the 1940’s? Don’t we enjoy the many technological advancements that we have seen in the field of medicine? Thank God for antibiotics! Having the ability to share photos with relatives through social media 24/7 is pretty sweet, isn’t it?
But what if I told you that most (if not all) technological advancements have a life changing flip side to them. When we talk aspirin, we can bleed internally. Modern farm equipment has contributed to increases in environmental pollution leading to more allergens. The automobile has created “traffic” and is a major contributor of accidents — America’s 4th leading cause of death. The television, smartphone and video games can be quite addictive, can’t they? Addictions can be lethal.
We are now celebrating automation and robots, or shall we say robotics, as if we should absolutely support everything they have to offer. We talk a lot about drones these days, don’t we? Look, I can see the immediate financial benefits of automation especially in the fast food industry — replacing waiters and cashiers with touch screen kiosks will save any fast food restaurant a large sum in operational costs. Perhaps, fast food restaurant owners will eventually use robots in order to help with hygiene as investing in machines will require less employees, consequently leading to lower levels of food contaminants. It is likely that we are going to see a mass adoption of robots automating production of fast food restaurants and warehouses in the near future due to the reasons presented above. In fact, robotic automation is already happening to a degree. What are the consequences of the former, though?
I wish that we could look at automation and adoption of robotics in isolation from society. The problem is that we just cannot. If we decide to celebrate technology to a point of mass adopting warehouse automation systems, at the expense of its labor force for example, the side effects we are going to feel in our society may be too drastic and irreversible. If you are what I like to call a “TechnoGroupie,” your foundations will be shaken simply because the side effects of such implementations are too much for any humane society to absorb. Let me elaborate.
Automating retail warehouses with robots and fast food ordering systems can have devastating impacts to our local economy. Replacing fast food restaurant employees with automated ordering kiosks might eventually cut fast food operation by 50%. The Wall Street Journal estimates that the use of robots will eventually cut fulfillment costs by 40%. How many of these retail jobs do we have in Cleveland? Technology is stealing our jobs.
What would that do to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s estimation of 700,000 new jobs by 2020 in the general retail sector? Isn’t the uncontrolled adoption of technology a threat to our national security? I might be going a bit too far with my assumptions but nobody can deny that the flip side of automation and robots is scary maybe irresponsible.
Blockbuster used to have 9,000 stores and 60,000 employees. Netflix destroyed them. Redbox introduces the kiosk movie rental concept using automated restocking machines. Redbox employs a fraction of the employees. No wonder why receiving a pay increase is becoming a utopia for many these days. When the supply of jobs decrease, its demand increase leading to jobs paying less many times not readjusting pay at all. You can partly thank the flip side of technology for your family members’ and friends’ frozen wages. It is economics 101.
Be careful with believing that technology is always good. Sometimes, technology has dire consequences. Maintaining local economic sustainability should be our goal not blind adoption of technology.