One of the socio-technological themes that I follow and have written about is the interrelationship of automation and the future of human work. In a previous post, I discussed the South African mining strikes, which in some cases are winding down. In other cases, labor unrest has spread to other mines and other mining companies. At issue here, of course, are the various trade-offs between safety, economics, livelihood, and social equity that plague all dangerous, low-wage human labor.
Workers want more safety and compensation, i.e. better life outcomes, and corporate entities want more predictable and profitable operations, i.e., better economic outcomes.
To be clear and direct here: the global economy will settle the dispute eventually. As much as I sympathize with the workers, and I do sympathize with them, they are being crushed between a rock and a hard place. Global economic trends are working against them, but so too are global technology trends.
We are already seeing technology gearing up to fill the labor gap.
Check out this video from Rail-Veyor Technologies:
It won’t be long before the global supply chain in raw material extraction and transportation will be fully automated and computer controlled. This means mining, farming, and more. Even in developing economies.
Automation will have enormous impact on human beings who earn their livelihoods through labor, and these displaced human beings will have an impact on our world, positively or negatively.
I’ve written before that as automation progresses, human beings will be challenged to do new things, develop new skills, and add unique, human-driven value to the economy. In the first world, most of us can likely meet this challenge ourselves, individually. There are support systems for us.
In the developing world, it will be tougher for individuals to adapt. And because our global economic fortunes are increasingly intertwined, the best thing would be for governments and industry to take an active global interest in assisting displaced workers. Teach them skills, educate them, find ways to help them focus and leverage their bodies and minds in ways that provide them with livelihoods.
This needs to happen in conjunction with automation. It can’t wait. In fact, I’d like to see companies like Rail-Veyor develop assistance and educational programs for potentially displaced workers.
This is yet another big challenge for our global society. There are so many, it’s true, but doing nothing isn’t viable. Pragmatically, strikes and protests by displaced workers are economically disruptive, but ethically, a future of exclusion, of extreme wealth and extreme poverty, can’t be anyone’s vision of an ideal global society.
We can do a better future than that.