In recent years, automation has been growing at an exponential rate. Jobs that were previously for humans are instead being performed by robots. This goes not only for the expected assembly-line jobs, but also high-end white-collar jobs. Engineers and programmers have recently made strides in innovation, allowing for robot doctors, baby-sitters, and even police officers. Many are growing worried that robots will take over the entire jobs market, some going as far to suggest halting the new technology altogether. This, and proposals such as universal income, signal a potential future world where robots have taken over, and the once-sought-after human is not longer a viable economic asset.
There are many ways that robots can be objectively better than humans. They don’t get tired, they don’t get paid, they can be stronger than humans, and they are already becoming smarter. Robots are also developing learning algorithms that let them teach themselves and improve. So, in a world where technology is quickly becoming better and better, the question becomes “How can a simple human, keep their regular 9-to-5 job?”
The answer: Become good at branding. If companies and humans are slick enough, “Human-Hands” (short for “Made With Human Hands”) could become the next “Non-GMO.”
Countless food products plaster the words “natural,” “no preservatives,” and “Non-GMO” all over their packaging. Words like “natural” have definitions so vague that they give little to no insight on how a food is actually produced. Other terms, such as “Non-GMO,” also fall short when it’s proven that many GMOs are are harmless and even beneficial. Yet people buy foods labeled in these ways anyway. And no, it’s not because almost every product has a health-related buzzword on it. People are actually buying them over regular products.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Jayson Lusk, an agricultural economist at Oklahoma State University, even attested to seeing non-GMO salt being sold. He stated that “salt, by definition, cannot be genetically modified, since it’s a mineral and doesn’t contain DNA.” Yet, non-GMO salt is still a product on store shelves.
The first GMO food to come out was a delayed-ripening tomato in 1994. GMO foods continued a trend of growth, but hit an obstacle in 2012, when a French molecular biologist named Gilles-Éric Séralini wrote an article that falsely claimed that GMO foods had a significant tie to increased tumors. This scare boosted the non-GMO market into what it is today — and growth for genetically modified crops has slowed.
It is possible that automation could have a similar fate. Given the rapid innovation in technology, allowing robots to work more complex jobs, as well as the rapid increase in robots replacing humans, one could say that an “automation scare” is inevitable. For example, all it takes is one robot doctor to make a grave enough mistake to spark demands for human-only jobs, or for patients to select hospitals that promise not to operate on them with robots. Another possibility could be if someone were to publish a Séralini-like paper that claimed that patients of robot doctors were more likely to need to go back for more surgery or had more problems after surgery. Even if robot doctors were statistically more successful than human doctors, it would still have an effect.
Small business could both keep human jobs and thrive as well. Jayson Lusk attributes some of the mistrust in GMOs to the big corporations that make them. Smaller businesses will generally have less money and not be able to afford the newest tech to implement a level of efficiency or automation that a big corporation might have. Opting to resort to human hires instead could give them an inherent competitive advantage in the market.
Certain fields like the arts and cooking could also market the “human touch” aspect.
It is likely that automation is not the end for human jobs. The more jobs robots take on, the more likely it will be for an incident to occur that incites backlash to automation. This type of built-in market limit will eventually keep automation from taking jobs and the percentage of automation in the workforce at a stable percentage. Add in the fact that humans will be the sole consumer for products that the market produces, and thus, will support companies and policies that benefit them the most, and it is hard to see a world where automation has phased out the average human worker.
Lyon Leng is a senior at Eden Prairie High School, and has an interest in becoming an active global citizen.
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