Is a robot going to take away your job?

Technology advances appear to have increased the profits and promise to reduce jobs even further. Photo: Steve Kroft meets Baxter the Robot on "60 Minutes" Photo from video

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., September 12, 2013 — In the “60 Minutes” program of September 8, there was a segment on automation (see video below). Several experts, MIT professors, were interviewed as to the impact of automation in our manufacturing and, more importantly, on our economic outlook in the next decades.

The main emphasis of the segment was that automation is at least partly responsible for the stagnation in the creation of jobs. With unacceptable unemployment numbers, our economy appears to be hampered in its recovery with logical problems for the working class. While our economy is bigger than before the recession, our jobless continue to hang around 7+%.

In an example, the “60 Minutes” reporter, Steve Kroft takes us to a warehouse where robots work along with a reduced number of workers. The robots do the work of three and one half workers for significantly less. While at the warehouse the robots haven’t taken away most of the jobs that only a human can do, advances in the next few years may even erode this category also.

Probably the most important information from the “60 Minutes” report is that for less than $22,000 a small or medium size manufacturer can purchase a robot to replace some of the simplest tasks. These robots have a life of around three years and bring the cost of labor to $3.40 an hour. This rate competes with the cost of labor in places like India and China. It is obvious to expect that these robots will only get better and cheaper in the future.

Such reality as this appears to reinforce that even the jobs that may return to the U.S. from China, India, Mexico, and other countries, may not translate into significant additional employment for Americans. Kroft asked if corporations were to reestablish operations to the U.S., whether it would translate into more jobs.

The expert hedged his answer by saying that this would be the “$64,000 question,” referencing the 1950’s TV quiz show. This answer as well as its logic appear to indicate that technology advances will not be disregarded and in fact will be a more powerful force in the future with regards to jobs and the economy.

When considering all the options for our future, it appears rational that we need to take drastic actions to try to position our work force with training to stay in step with the technology onslaught that appears to be rearing its head in our future.

Probably most important is educating our work force to be able to take on much more complex tasks in the future. The prohibitive costs of higher education will have to be controlled, making it available to all our citizens. The benefits of a higher education will have to be considered as a dire need for our economic survival in the future.

We have always counted on the creative spirit of America to confront our problems. This creative force will have to be incentivized even more. Basic and advanced research will have to return to our priority list to support and generate the innovative forces of our citizens. Leaving this task to our private enterprises may not be the solution. Corporations are not responsible for creating jobs; they are only required to make money for their investors. We can also not expect them to go against their interests for patriotic or humanistic reasons.

America’s future can be summed up by paraphrasing Bette Davis as Margot Channing in the movie “All About Eve,” “Fasten your seat belts, it is going to be a bumpy night [ride]”.

Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist can be found in Facebook (Mario Salazar) and Twitter (chibcharus).


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Mario Salazar

Mario Salazar is a combat infantry Vietnam Vet, world traveler, renaissance reconnaissance man, pacifist, metal smith, glass artisan, computer programmer and he has a Master of Science in Civil/Environmental Engineering.  Now retired from the Environmental Protection Agency and living in Montgomery County, Mario will share with you his life, his thoughts, his musing on living in yet another century of change.  He will also try to convey his joy of being old.

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