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There is an abattoir in Greece that processes tons of meat a day requiring only one operator, the automation manager, (literally) the rest is done by robots.
A factory in Romania produces thousand of tyres with hardly any production worker on site. Phillips electronics has set up a factory in Holland that assembles ‘electric shavers’, gainfully employing about 130 robots with (almost) no production worker on the factory floor. At Phillips’ other plant in China that does the same things, hundreds of humans work full time to produce the equivalent number of shavers, with concomitant human inefficiency! As more and more companies in the world fully automate their productions, how is it possible for the unemployed masses, which are supposed to be also ‘the consumers’, afford to buy the various products the soulless factories crank out?A quarter of a millennium ago something similar happened in Britain. Craftsmen/craftswomen that were in the business of producing stuff were gradually replaced by a system of factory production that was later christened ‘the industrial revolution.’ The industrial revolution systematically replaced the ‘crafties’ who were their own bosses along with their own idiosyncrasies, with unskilled labor that was severely regimented in a manner not very dissimilar from the robots of today. Recruiting sufficient unimaginative labor (compared to the crafties) from the land (farms) required only rudimentary dwellings around the factory environs, which of course didn’t prove difficult at all (the fodder for Charles Dickens’ writings.)That is why many still associate urbanization with industrialization and vice versa. May be it is time to reexamine this archaic notion in light of recent technological achievements. Why is large-scale urbanization no more sexy?
Urban centers are congested (with attendant consequences),polluted and usually crime ridden. Moreover, the urbane life that is still sought after is no more the exclusive terrain of the metropolis. These days even peasants are hardly deprived of modern amenities, let alone basic necessities; unlike those not-so-good old days. By and large, physical and institutional infrastructures are widely available across the breadth (more or less) of any given national territory, assuring adequate conveniences. Townization and villagization rather than massive and cumbersome urbanization of old, should be the models of future human settlements, especially for those start ups like us. To start with, per capita consumption of energy is higher for urban dwellers than it is for rural ones. As energy becomes increasingly dear, polluting and climate destabilizing, grand metropolis and their satellite suburbia might end up becoming just toast in the future! We hope Africa’s urban planners are listening.
During the last two decades, modern technology encroached areas that were once the exclusive domain of humans.CAD/ CAM (Computer Assisted Design/Manufacturing) have replaced thousands of designers, draftsmen/women. Traditional print, audio and visual media are giving way to websites/blogs in the Internet. Social media, e-mail, etc, have rendered the likes of postal services (US Mail, etc) almost obsolete. Nowadays, a lot of office work can easily be done from home, thereby cutting the need for commuting as well as curtailing the demand for office spaces. Etc., etc. see also the articles on page 50. GDP, which is a primitive measure of economic activity, cannot fully appreciate the above achievements of technology. It regards many of these breakthroughs as growth inhibiting, hence deflationary. Yes, in the scheme of entrenched economic thinking, most of it is deflationary, but we have to go beyond this confining and backward looking mode of economic analysis! See Foremski’s article next column. Be that as it may, the impacts of advance technology on human labor, be it in manufacturing or services, is very real. As a result, societies all over the world must find meaningful vocations to their increasingly restless and unengaged populations. One suggestion; come up with creative and cooperative schema that aim to revive the depleted and depleting natural environment by permanently engaging/employing this reserve army of the unemployed!
The prevailing global system is not in the habit of reflecting on profound issues so long as these tendencies do not actually disrupt the status quo. That is why we’ll have to undergo frequent earth shattering natural catastrophes (due to climate change, etc) before we are forced to change our old ways, or witness the slaughtering of hundreds or even thousands of children before we can tackle the issue of guns and their control. By the same token, this important socio-economic challenge (globally prevailing structural/systemic unemployment) is purposely muted. We repeat, as gainful employment recedes globally, how is income to be distributed (in a profit system) so that the breathing beast (human mass) can buy goods produced by the lifeless robots? Somehow the global system must come up with a scheme that lands the consuming public sufficient purchasing power to sustain the wasteful model. And rest assured, a whole lot of useless/wasteful ideas will be implemented with the hope of perpetuating the existing dysfunctional system, compliment of establishment ‘think tanks’, or in the lingua of our kebele ph.ds (phony doctors),the ‘unthinking tanks’ (universities and their real Ph.ds, not excepted.) Unfortunately, this is in the nature of the ‘coal mine’(established global order); it just refuses to endorse progressive and transformative change!
Here is what a massive employer in the high tech business is doing. ‘Foxconn, Apple’s iPhone manufacturer, continues to build new plants and hire thousands of additional workers to make smart phones, it plans to install more than a million robots within a few years to supplement its work force in China. Foxconn has not disclosed how many workers will be displaced or when. But its chairman has publicly endorsed a growing use of robots. Speaking of his more than one million employees worldwide, he said in January, according to the official Xinhua news agency: “As human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache.” Terry Gou. Here is a more humorous gibe, which is more in the holiday spirit than the dour one of Gou. “The fully automated factory of the future employs only one man and a dog. The dog is there to make sure the man doesn’t touch anything, and the man is there to feed the dog.”Good Day!