Marty, the Robot; the Beginning of an Economic Armageddon
By Bob Branco
February 24, 2019
We’ve all heard about how robots are gradually entering the work force in order to perform many jobs, jobs that people do. I think robots are fascinating. They are fun to watch. However, they do not put food on the table for their families.
Recently, I heard that a local super market is introducing a brand new employee, Marty, the Robot. From what I learned so far, Marty will be responsible for observing the store. If he sees a problem with the inventory or something on the floor, he will alert the manager. Marty may be doing more work once he is upgraded. I can understand why Marty works for this super market from a business standpoint. He doesn’t take home a pay check. He doesn’t need health insurance. He doesn’t call in sick unless someone has to maintain him. If Marty feels he’s doing a great job, he won’t ask for a raise. So, Marty saves money for the business.
Now, let’s look at the flip side. Marty can’t financially provide for someone’s family. He will increase the unemployment rate because people don’t have to do his work. If a customer in the store has a question about an item in stock, Marty can’t talk to her.
I am totally amazed at the number of people who continue to argue that the transition from the horse to the car was just as difficult as what’s going on now. That’s not a good argument. People were involved in the transition and kept working. Robots and other forms of automation are replacing people altogether. If you believe everything you hear, there will eventually be no more drivers, no more food servers, no more housekeepers, no more stock clerks, no more cashiers, no more telephone operators and no more custodians. Much of the blue collar industry will be gone. How do you replace blue collar jobs with tech jobs when most of the blue collar workers aren’t trained for them? Would a career truck driver suddenly manufacture and maintain sophisticated automated technology? If you had an aunt or mother who spent their entire working careers cleaning houses, are they suddenly going to make robots just because that’s where the job market is headed? Not everyone is trained to manufacture automation. You have to go to high-tech schools for that, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A 55-year-old blue-collar worker will likely not do that. Would all 50-year-old factory workers want to be social workers? Many of these factory workers won’t go to college at this late date because they will neither have the desire nor the capability of doing so. Some of these factory workers may be high school drop-outs while others have severe learning challenges.
I realize that Marty is just one robot in a large store, and his work is minimal. However, he is just another example of a very scary trend in our economy. Automation is taking over. This is nothing like previous job shifts that many argue were just as difficult to get used to. Automation did not take over back then. People did new things. What new things will people do if we have driverless cars, robot surgeons, automated answering services, automated delivery services, online shopping, mechanical floor washers, self check-out machines, automated food service, and other job replacements? What will our economy be like? As the years go by, a typical conversation in an average household might start this way, “Sorry, Honey, I can’t provide for the household anymore because a robot is going to do my job.” As I implied earlier, you can’t turn a blue-collar worker into a white-collar worker at the snap of a finger. It could be age, mental capacity, or any number of other factors which affect this. Is automation our economy’s Armageddon? I am reluctant to say no.
One popular solution to this problem is for us to be self-employed. That sounds reasonable. Let’s all start our own businesses. Well, sales might be out of the question because Amazon may have a monopoly on any idea we may have.
Another concern I have about robotics has to do with agencies that support people with learning disabilities. One of the most common jobs given to such individuals is bagging groceries. If robots take over that responsibility in the future, this will likely affect such job placements by these agencies. Then what will happen?
In the early 1980s, a college professor gave a lecture to a class that one of my friends participated in. During this lecture, the professor said that by the turn of the century, technology will move ahead of us and will eventually do us in. Is he right?