Lucille Ball in "I Love Lucy" CBS + Baxter
I just attended a conference on Robotics and was introduced to the concept of low-cost robots, like Baxter, that can replace low cost people, in highly repetitive jobs. The sales people from this industry describe these jobs as "mind-numbing" but I can't seem to stop wondering about the people who are moved out of "mind-numbing" jobs and into the position of unemployment which frankly seems worse than "mind-numbing."
I've decided to copyright the phrase "Certified Made by Humans."
Today, many consumers are interested in supporting "locally grown" produce as a precondition of purchase on the merit of supporting local farms. I suspect that the same type of movement will emerge for the support of human workers. The Luddites may win after all.
Jobs are not just about the creation of products. They also create a life for the worker. I've spent most of my waking life working, and I have received in return, not just money, but the satisfaction of contributing to my society. The feeling of a "job well done" or the exhaustion of having worked hard are important rewards for employment. We cannot be so focused on simply the cost of manufactured goods that we forget to also consider the impact of joblessness on society. And, oddly enough, many of the things that I do that are "mind numbing," like raking leaves, nonetheless feel good when done.
Now don't get me wrong. I love technology and I love robotics. And, I feel that especially in cases where the outcome of hiring a robot versus a person can influence the overall safety of the process, robotics is more than justified.
For example, I just had an argument with one of my "tennis buddies," who's a doctor, about the potential for software like IBM's Watson, to take over the diagnostic responsibilities of doctors. He's certain that it will never occur, I'm certain that it will. I believe that while some doctors are excellent diagnosticians, most are likely not, and could be bested by a machine.
However, it seems that the pendulum is swinging only in one direction at this moment, and it's important for us to consider that "work" has a meaning in society that is significantly broader than its output. How we choose to design our society and for example, whether we choose to maximize the general well being and happiness of our citizens is a critical decision moving forward.
In the US, we've reached a moment in our societal development where we have more than enough productivity to meet the basic needs of our population. The result is that most of us have disposable income that we use to buy a plethora of unnecessary consumer crap. Yet, some of us do not. How do we want to use the excess of productivity that we have? Creating general social order and calm would seem obviously to benefit us all. As part of that, creating general social happiness seems like a reasonable goal.
I suspect that the same endorphins that affect my sense of happiness for a "job well done" are also shared by ants who successfully build their hills or bees that build their hives. Evolution has led us to this fascinating dilemma. Our happiness is an evolutionary trait that is driven by our having evolved into a social being and our intelligence is also an evolutionary trait that has evolved in much the same way. But, these two evolutionary traits are at odds when they are confronted by the impact of robotics on society.
Or, maybe I should simply be worried about the happiness of robots?
About the Author
Bob Caspe is the CEO at the International Entrepreneurship Center (http://iecpartners.com). He has started three companies, has taught thousands of entrepreneurs around the world, and has mentored and taught students at MIT and Babson College.
Download a copy of his book: Entrepreneurial Action at http://caspegroup.com/textbook.php
Bob's personal website: http://caspegroup.com.