Technology vs the economy

We talked a lot today about technology and how it could/would replace the need for people in many fields of work. There were many examples named, from having holograms of artists and singers to using robots to perform surgeries, and while the panic due to automation-induced unemployment is understandable, I don’t think that it is as bad as many people seem to believe; it will be a long time before robots will completely replace certain workforces, and new opportunities will be opened up by these technologies. The argument mentioned in the WIRED article speaks to this fact–in the grand scheme of things, technology will become more of an aid/assistant than a replacement for humans. The value of human interaction, craftsmanship, and creativity does not seem like it will be lost due to automation/technology. For example, synthetic diamonds can be created and sold for a fraction of the price of real diamonds, but the value of the real diamond is still appreciated and sought after. The less expensive, synthetic diamonds merely appeal to a different group of consumers who may not be able to afford the real diamonds, but this doesn’t take away from the value of the real diamond, especially as a “status symbol”. The same phenomenon can be observed in fashion; fast fashion offers a much cheaper way to purchase clothing that imitates “haute couture”, but it in no way replaces it.

In terms of technology taking over service/retail, like Amazon Go for example, I think that this might occur for certain things like groceries and video game rentals, but the value of human interaction will allow many stores to keep thriving. Many cosmetics stores like Lush or Sephora offer valuable human interaction in stores, where employees develop a relationship with the customer. This experience cannot be replaced by a robot and so the demand for these stores will still exist. Technology can just provide more options for consumers; if they need something quick and convenient, they can go to somewhere like Amazon Go where no human interaction is needed, but if they want the experience of human interaction, other places will still exist.

I do think that the implementation of technology can bring about more profit and efficiency for both consumers and companies, but I think it is important to realize that while there might be a net growth in GDP, the distribution of the riches may be extremely skewed. I think that the rise of technology in the workforce comes with the consequence of even greater inequality, as only those with access to resources and education will be able to take advantage of the opportunities opened up with technology. I would imagine that much of the push for increased technology refers to growth in GDP, but a rise in GDP is not a good indicator for quality of life, since it really fails to take into account the individual experience. Inequality is a very pressing issue in today’s society and I wonder if the implementation of technology into the workforce will exacerbate this problem.

Another important thing to think about is how social media platforms/media in general can facilitate conversation instead of fuelling echo chambers. It is hard because, as Jacob mentioned in class, there was a study that showed how exposure to another perspective during the political election actually polarized people even more. However, I feel like the reason for this is partly due to the content that was shared; for example, most videos by liberal platforms straight up insulted Trump and his supporters, and if you were a Trump supporter, you wouldn’t change your opinions after getting told how stupid and racist you were. The content that is randomly shared by platforms should definitely be more neutral, but ultimately it is the individual who has to be open to viewing these different opinions. The problem now is that even if individuals want exposure to different perspectives, the media makes it difficult to find that content.

I look forward to further discussion on technology and its relationship with societal issues.

 

3 Comments »

  1. matty

    September 26, 2017 @ 4:35 pm

    1

    I loved your comparison of human interaction in stores to real/synthetic diamonds. Going to stores with humans could become a status symbol just as wearing diamonds is today.
    It is interesting to consider that human operated stores could become a premium. Since I rarely utilize the help of store clerks, I am not sure that I would go to human operated stores if the automated ones were more efficient. However, sometimes I really appreciate the unasked help and communication that human clerks provide even thought I usually do not ask. The random, unexpected interactions are sometimes wonderful.

  2. Mike Smith

    September 26, 2017 @ 8:25 pm

    2

    Great arguments and points in your first paragraph, Cindy. And while I agree that some stores will differentiate themselves by their human customer service, your statement about relationships not being able to be replaced by a robot made me think of robot companions, which are a thing today. Here are two quick references:

    https://www.wired.com/story/companion-robots-are-here/

    https://www.media.mit.edu/groups/personal-robots/overview/

    This is a real thing in elderly care, where we don’t have enough people to care for our growing elderly population. Good or bad, a lack of qualified humans is driving the industry.

    Inequality is the problem. No one realized the extent of it, and now we’re trying to stop a wave that feels like what I feel like standing in the ocean trying to stop the incoming ocean waves.

  3. Jim Waldo

    September 26, 2017 @ 8:55 pm

    3

    Nice post, with some great thoughts.

    I sometimes think (hope) that the jobs that will be eliminated by technology are those that humans least like to do. In the same way that the power loom eliminated a whole group of jobs (weavers), current technology could eliminate a lot of repetitive, boring jobs like those on the assembly line (where robots are already often used), in parts of agriculture, or long-haul truck driving.

    Of course, the people who have those jobs are not happy that they are eliminated (and the riots and luddite smashing of the power looms could be repeated). And as you say, this could result in greater economic inequality, at least during the transition. But I agree with you– craftsmanship will always be valued, and there will always be a place for those who can exhibit it.

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