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Why Automation Could Result In Mass Unemployment

by E.J. Mones 4 months ago in future

Automation has the potential to dramatically transform the world, governments should be aware of some concerning effects of it.

As technology races ahead, many Americans will be left behind as emerging technology, such as automation, replaces jobs and causes mass unemployment in both developed and undeveloped countries. While automation has the potential to dramatically transform the world, governments should look into ways to minimize a few concerning effects of automation. Millions could lose their jobs, mental health and poverty could worsen, and income inequality will rise.

Undoubtedly, automation could be a huge issue for millions, as according to the Associated Press, “a quarter of U.S. jobs will be severely disrupted as artificial intelligence accelerates the automation of existing work, according to a new Brookings Institution report” (Associated Press). On the other hand, even for those with advanced degrees, there’s no guarantee that their skills won’t be coded in software. as Stanford researchers have already made algorithms that are capable of replacing radiologists, “In a matter of seconds, a new algorithm read chest X-rays for 14 pathologies, performing as well as radiologists in most cases, a Stanford-led study says” (Stanford Medicine). Although automation can generate new jobs, “Even in the best case, automation leaves the first generation of workers it displaces in a lurch because they usually don’t have the skills to do new and more complex tasks, Mr. Acemoglu found in a paper published in May” (Miller). With the dawn of robotics, artificial intelligence, and other new technologies, more jobs are at risk of being replaced by machines.

Another effect of automation is the fact that companies wouldn’t have to pay as much on their employees if machine labor is used instead, resulting in a rise of income inequality. With their profits margins increasing, and with less expenditure, upper management can get a higher wage, thus increasing the gap between rich and poor. “Early work (e.g., Autor, Levy and Murnane, 2003; Goos and Manning, 2007; Michaels, Natraj and Van Reenen, 2014; Autor and Dorn, 2013; Gregory, Salomons and Zierahn, 2016) provides evidence suggesting that automation of routine jobs has been associated with wage inequality and decline of middle-skill occupations” (Acemoglu, Daron and Pascual Restrepo). Due to the nature of routine jobs, those in low-skilled jobs or those who haven't completed their secondary education are more likely to be replaced by machines. Although this may help the skilled worker get a raise in pay, it limits the opportunities for low skilled workers, which can cause them to give up searching for a job.

Automation can also have an effect on suicide rates. This is a serious issue which can cause families to suffer. As the working class are already struggling and this could be the last straw for some. According to the University of Zurich “In all world regions, the relative risk of suicide associated with unemployment was elevated by about 20–30% during the study period. Overall, 41 148 (95% CI 39 552–42 744) suicides were associated with unemployment in 2007 and 46 131 (44 292–47 970) in 2009, indicating 4983 excess suicides since the economic crisis in 2008” (Nordt, Warnke, Seifritz, and Kawohl). This meant that during the Great Recession, the number of suicides were higher than average. Governments must adapt to automation in order to prevent these issues.

Nonetheless, automation has its benefits. If machines were to take the place of manual labor, there would be far fewer accidents as opposed to doing the work manually. Furthermore, machines make for more efficient workers as they never get tired, take vacations, ask for raises, get sick, and they don’t harass their co-workers. It can enable a production process that otherwise could not be viable using human labor and can improve product quality and consistency. However, it would still cause a loss of jobs and have a huge impact on the working class, which is still struggling to keep up with housing costs. “According to new research by Harvard University, almost 40 million Americans “live in housing they cannot afford.” Homeownership has gone down and rental prices keep going up, meaning that millions of residents are forced to pay more than they reasonably should” (CNBC).

While there are clear benefits of automation, it’ll have a negative impact on workers and can result in a loss of jobs especially for those who are unskilled. Companies, in the long run, may benefit from automation and increase their profit, but they may lose sales as customers wouldn’t have a job to pay for products. Therefore, it should be a collaborative effort between the government, companies, and the working class to ensure that everyone benefits from this new technology and that no one gets left behind. Automation will enhance the lives of many and have a multitude of benefits, but there are some clear issues that need to be addressed in order to prevent any unforeseen consequences.

Sources Cited:

Acemoglu, Daron, and Pascual Restrepo. “Demographics and Automation.” MIT Economics, Mar. 2019, economics.mit.edu/files/16788.

Ajimotokin, Sandra, et al. “The Effects of Unemployment on Crime Rates in the U.S.” SMARTech Repository, 14 Apr. 2015, smartech.gatech.edu/bitstream/handle/1853/53294/theeffectsofunemploymentoncimerates.pdf.

Armitage, Hanae. “Artificial Intelligence Rivals Radiologists in Screening X-Rays for Certain Diseases.” Stanford Medicine News Center, 20 Nov. 2018, med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2018/11/ai-outperformed-radiologists-in-screening-x-rays-for-certain-diseases.html.

Blakely, T, et al. “Unemployment and Suicide. Evidence for a Causal Association?” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, BMJ Group, Aug. 2003, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1732539/.

Bloom, Ester. “A Shocking Number of Americans Live in Housing They Can't Afford, According to Harvard Study.” CNBC, CNBC, 13 July 2017, www.cnbc.com/2017/07/13/harvard-study-heres-how-many-americans-cant-afford-housing.html.

Dizikes, Peter. “Study Finds Stronger Links between Automation and Inequality.” MIT News | Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 5 May 2020, news.mit.edu/2020/study-inks-automation-inequality-0506.

Miller, Claire Cain. "The long-term jobs killer is not China. It’s automation." The New York Times 21 (2016).

Nordt, Carlos, et al. “Modelling Suicide and Unemployment: a Longitudinal Analysis Covering 63 Countries, 2000–11.” The Lancet Psychiatry, Elsevier, 25 Feb. 2015, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2215036614001187.

Semuels, Alana. “The Parts of America Most Susceptible to Automation.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 3 May 2017, www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/05/the-parts-of-america-most-susceptible-to-automation/525168/.

Susskind, Richard, and Daniel Susskind. “Technology Will Replace Many Doctors, Lawyers, and Other Professionals.” Harvard Business Review, 11 Oct. 2016, hbr.org/2016/10/robots-will-replace-doctors-lawyers-and-other-professionals.

Taulli, Tom. “RPA (Robotic Process Automation): What's In Store For 2020?” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 13 Dec. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/tomtaulli/2019/12/13/rpa-robotic-process-automation--whats-in-store-for-2020/.

Yang, Andrew. “Andrew Yang: Yes, Robots Are Stealing Your Job.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Nov. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/11/14/opinion/andrew-yang-jobs.html


E.J. Mones

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