Benefits and risks of technology

Tina Haapala |

Written by Gary Silverman, CFP®

Automation and other technological advances kill jobs.

Case in point: Agriculture. Think of how much of the population was required to work in agriculture when our country was just being formed—almost every citizen had to be involved just to keep food on the table. Now, we’ve replaced most of those people with a monstrous green machine. That big green thing plows, plants, fertilizes, and harvests whatever is grown. Oh, and that ability is built on technological advances in engineering, manufacturing, systems, and chemistry.

All of this means it takes a lot fewer people than before to feed many more people today. And that means that millions of agricultural jobs have been lost. If you elect me president I’ll bring those jobs back. We’ll turn from tractors to oxen, ban the use of chemicals, and only allow distribution of products to areas that can be served by wagon with no refrigeration. Most of us will again be working on a farm—think of the fresh air and exercise we’ll get!

I’m guessing you won’t vote me in for president.

My point is that as much as we might get mad at technology taking away jobs, we mostly prefer the benefits over the costs. Plus, all that technology means that someone has to design, build, install, maintain and operate all those big green things running around in the fields.

In other words, technological advances create jobs.

The problem comes when we create technologies that design, build, install, maintain and operate themselves and all of the other technologies already existing. This becoming a complete reality is the stuff of science fiction. But we’re at the point where we can print a human ear, cars are starting to drive themselves around, and IBM’s big box with blinking lights can perform medical diagnosis that would rival Dr. House (but with better bedside manners).

A recent study by Citi and the Oxford Martin School shows just how disruptive developing technologies can be. According to their estimates, developing countries are at particular risk. For instance, around 70% of the jobs in China and India are in areas where automation displacement is anticipated.

We in the United States aren’t immune. Cities such as Fresno, California, might see over half of their jobs at risk. But even many cities with high levels of skilled employment are looking at over one-third of their workers being displaced.

That’s a problem. We’ll need to create a flexible enough workforce that will be able to transition into the jobs of the future, most of which haven’t been thought of yet. We’ll need educators to train those skills and the ability of displaced workers to afford the training. We’ll need to be able to get these newly trained workers to where the new jobs are or to get the jobs to locate to where the workers are. We’ll need a lot of tenacity, ingenuity, flexibility, and money to get this all done. Most importantly we’ll need men and women to lead us there—I don’t think we can automate that.

This article was published in the Wichita Falls Times Record News on March 27, 2016.