Navigating the New Industrial Revolution….

Tuesday 8th November 2016

In this issue of Money Truths….

  • To paint a vivid picture….
  • The rise of the neo-Luddite?
  • Our impending demise has been over-stated….
  • A never-ending Woodstock? Sounds like the real nightmare….
  • The New Industrial Revolution….

To paint a vivid picture….

Headline writers love to paint vivid pictures….

It doesn’t matter how disconnected the headline is from the truth – only that it grabs attention and provokes response….

Newspapers and magazines depend on advertising. Without it they perish. Attention-grabbing headlines help secure that revenue.

Headlines attract readers by pandering to their fears and prejudices. The bolder the headline, the better its prospects of attracting eyeballs – the readership on which the publication sets advertising rates.

Recently the newspapers have been boldly painting a picture of a dystopian future where robots take over and humans are surplus to requirements.

It’s a headline writer’s dream. A science-fiction plot open to all manner of wild speculation – and playing on the fear that machines will rob us of our ability to earn….

And it helps when a luminary like Stephen Hawking confirms that robots will take over. It enables sub-editors to print headlines like the one that recently appeared in the Independent….

‘Stephen Hawking: Artificial intelligence could wipe out humanity when it gets too clever as humans will be like ants….’

Scared yet? You shouldn’t be….

The rise of the neo-Luddite?

People were scared at the start of the last Industrial Revolution….

They were scared that technological advances would take their jobs – condemning them to short and impoverished lives.

Between 1811 and 1816 textile workers in Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire banded together to ‘do something about it.’

The Luddites (led by Ned Ludd) launched raids on factories – smashing to pieces the spinning frames and looms that had been installed. It was man waging war on machines.

The fears that drove the Luddites to direct action weren’t totally misguided. The machines they were raging against did replace many humans in the work place – creating some hardship and struggle.

Maybe this very day, somewhere in Britain, a cell of new-age Luddites plans to take out robots and intelligent machines – so as to win the future world of gainful employment for human beings….

Maybe, even as you read this, a committed band of hardened anti-tech revolutionaries are pulling on the face masks and preparing to smash-up the automatic checkout machines in some far-flung branch of Tesco – determined to reclaim the bagging-up area as an exclusively human preserve….

Maybe the avalanche of ‘robots-are-taking-over’ headlines will scare enough people sufficiently witless to encourage another Luddite rebellion. Who knows? A potent brew of lurid headlines and fear can do funny things to people.

But there really is no need to reach for the pitchfork or the gunpowder barrel….

Our impending demise has been over-stated….

Machines did displace workers in the early 17th century factories. But jobs did not disappear. Many people endured turbulence – in some cases extreme turbulence – but new jobs came along. That’s how technology works. It displaces some roles while creating others.

Within my own lifetime many jobs have been lost in sectors such as manufacturing and mining.  But new industries and new jobs – driven by technological advances – have grown up and taken their place. Information technology and communications, for example….

Back when I was a wee nipper in short pants, just a handful of individuals across the world were working on what we now know as the Internet. And they weren’t really working on it. They were more working toward it. They were inventing it…. Pioneering it….

But now millions of people have jobs and careers that depend on the Internet. Even 20- years ago very few people were thinking about social media. Now social media is a massive driver of business growth and supports millions of jobs all around the world.

The local High Street is not what it was back in my childhood. Many bricks and mortar retail outlets have disappeared. Independent retailers are much thinner on the ground. A good many provincial High Streets are now dominated by really big chains, charity shops and boarded-up premises.

For sure the rise of the out-of-town retail park has something to do with the death of the High Street. But so too has the rise of online retail activity. Old retail has lost traction and with it jobs. But new retail has largely replaced them.

My point is this: the impending demise of the human being in the workplace has been over-stated. Human roles in the workplace will evolve rather than disappear. Technology won’t just kill jobs. It will succeed in replacing them. Just as it has done throughout the last 200 years.

The rate of change – technology rushes along at a rate of knots – may be uncomfortable. Careers and roles we once thought of as permanent – roles we could play from entering the workplace to retirement – might prove to be not so enduring after all.

We might all suffer short-term discomfort from time to time as the future unfolds. Re-training and finding innovative ways of transferring skills from one role to another might be necessary. It might not be easy. We might not always feel as secure as we would like to.

But there will always be work for human beings. Human ingenuity and invention – the driver of all progress – will see to that.

The New Industrial Revolution will be very much like the original version. Technology will play a more advanced role in the world of work. But so too will humans.

Far from meaning no work and no role for humans, technology might ultimately produce work and purpose for all….

A never-ending Woodstock? Sounds like the real nightmare….

That last statement will disappoint large sections of the population – the large sections who respond to a very different type of robot-oriented headline….

Headline writers ain’t dumb. They know there is no one-size fits all message that succeeds in grabbing the attention of all and sundry.

So they vary the message for different audiences. ‘The robots are taking over’ – that’s a message that appeals to fear. But there’s another message – one that appeals to the self-interest of people who want something for nothing.

It’s a message that says the automated future will deliver the human being from the need to work at all. The intelligent machines will meet all his needs – freeing the human being up to do whatever he wants to do whenever he wants to do it (the ultimate definition of freedom).

This is the utopian version of the future. One where happy and well-fed humans will spend their days sitting under the big oak tree, singing along to the accompaniment of acoustic guitars and tom-tom drums – whilst tending bare-footed children and getting in touch with their higher selves.

And how will this ultra-extended version of the Woodstock Festival be funded?

No need to concern yourself with that knotty problem, brother. Pointy-heads belonging to certain economic schools of thought contend that the productivity gains produced by technology will enable the state to provide a basic income for all – an income for doing nothing.

For many it will sound like a dream come true. But you can see how this utopian vision might go horribly wrong.

Far from engaging in long bouts of transcendental meditation, most humans would eventually struggle to find a reason to get out of bed in a morning.

Instead of cleansing their chakras or opening their pineal glands, most humans would while away the long days watching television, consuming pornography, playing augmented-reality computer games and regulating their moods with state-sanctioned drugs.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the real nightmare vision to me.

Given the choice, I’d prefer an all-out war with a robot population intent on wiping out the human race. At least when you’re fighting for your very survival, there’s a good reason to throw off the duvet and sharpen your tools.

Turn on, tune in and drop out – all funded by a government-sponsored stipend – might make for a seductive message for some. But that way lies disaster.

The New Industrial Revolution….

The New Industrial Revolution should not be used as a justification to regress the human race. Nor can we allow it to be hijacked by so-called world improvers who think a glorified hippy commune is the nirvana we should all be heading for.

Work is a crucial component of our lives. We may not always appreciate it. There are times when we wish more of our time were our own. But for many millions work provides structure and gives our lives purpose. To be without work would render us immeasurably poorer as a species – and not just financially.

We may not know for sure exactly where the world of work is headed. Or what we will find when we get there. But government planners (and I must concede I don’t hear too many of them talking about it) need to shape policy so that the New Industrial Revolution is one in which new industries are developed, new skills are forged and one in which work evolves and continues to enrich lives. Not one where work disappears for good.

Technology and intelligent machines do some jobs better, quicker and cheaper than humans. The way some things are done in the workplace is changing as a result. But this is good old-fashioned progress.

It is opportunity too. The New Industrial Revolution isn’t the end. It is just another beginning – another opportunity for humans to develop and progress.

We are not obsolete. We are not on the scrapheap. We are not useless. We are better than that.

The human track record is one of adopting, adapting and improving. That is how we have always moved forward. It is how we always will. And don’t let Ned Ludd or the Woodstock brigade tell you any different.

That’s how it looks from here….

I’ll be back next Tuesday.

All the best,

dave-gibson

Dave Gibson

Money Truths