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Regulating a Revolution

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In capitalism, no job is guaranteed. Companies make their choice on who to employ based on cost and performance of their workers. The system has thus far worked well for the US -- different jobs are open to people with a range education and skills. But the system is changing quickly, and may even collapse if it is not handled correctly. This is because there are robots emerging that can outperform humans physically in simple, low education jobs, the jobs that employ the most Americans to begin with. If these robots, in whatever form they are in, are introduced into the economy too quickly and without regulation, millions of Americans could lose their jobs and the economy could find itself in an incredibly sticky situation.


Jumping to conclusions too quick? Well, most of the top jobs in America are pretty much all replaceable by robots. Cashiers and retail salespeople, for instance, who make up the largest workforces in America, have been or soon may be replaced by bots that work autonomously.


Retail salespeople are already being threatened by robots that are not even tangible. Online retailers like Amazon and Walmart provide the same products that their brick-and-mortar counterparts provide with lower prices and more convenience -- as a result, many physical stores, ranging from Macy’s to KMart to Barnes and Noble, have shut down stores and bled many jobs to adapt.


Then there are the bots that threaten the cashier. Panasonic has developed a robot that can scan and bag grocery items, a robot that is planned to be introduced to Japanese supermarkets this year. Additionally, Amazon has opened a “frictionless” convenience store, Amazon Go, which has totally disregarded the need for physical cashier bots. It instead lets people take what they want and be charged on their account later.


These are very sideline projects, that will not become widespread all at once. But once more of this kind of technology is developed, and the price to have these technologies becomes more financially viable, a larger and larger portion of the 3.4 million cashiers may find themselves out of work.


Despite their possible effects, these cashier bots are really no amazing feat of innovation. At least, not compared to the self driving car, a technology also in the making that threatens the livelihoods of millions of Americans. The self driving car is a car that can drive itself by actively gathering data from its surroundings. Its program learns to drive in certain conditions by being shown many instances of driving and what to do, in a process called machine learning`


The self driving car is probably the most profound example of machine learning out there. And it is riding into our economy quickly; many have been developed or are in the making, by companies like Google, Tesla, and Uber. The self driving automobile is amazing technology that can have a number of beneficial effects on our society -- it can greatly reduce traffic, and save thousands of lives from human errors like driving under the influence and texting while driving. And yet, it can also lead to widespread unemployment, and undercut the 1.7 million middle class American truckers, as well as an additional 1.7 million taxi, bus, and delivery drivers.


Some argue that autonomous drivers, cashiers, and other machines will drive prices down and let people spend less on food and transportation. However, taking away so many jobs so quickly, without government intervention, would have devastating economic impacts. People may have more spending money, but in order for them to gain sustainable, long term jobs out of reach by robots, they will have to obtain higher education. As of now, it is unrealistic to expect the millions of uneducated workers out of a job to enter the only inreasingly costly higher education system.


The government should interfere in this setting of job loss, by limiting the additions of autonomous machines and penalizing companies for going autonomous. For example, a trucking company can only add up to 5 autonomous trucks a year, at a rate of $200 a month for each added truck. Thus, instead of having the company fire all of its truckers and rapidly replace them with autonomous vehicles, only a certain number of salaries can be cut a year, at a price that mimics a salary anyway. It was a basic example, but the point rings clear; rather than totally banning technology that can have incredibly useful effects on society, the US must provide some level of negative incentive so as to prevent widespread job loss. Additionally, the revenue from the autonomous tax can be put towards relief for people who lose their jobs to robots, to help them get back on their feet and back into the economy.


Moreover, the government should require human supervision of stores and even transportation vehicles, in order to ensure some level of employment once autonomous technology becomes the overwhelmingly better choice. People should be put in charge of keeping track of trucks, or monitoring 10 or so cashier bots at once.


The process of developing these laws should be occurring now, instead of later, when the job loss is in full swing. The government should be able to foresee a large shift in economy dynamics in coming years, as robots surpass humans in skill, speed, and price. Legislation is the only way to combat the rapid revolution of technology that can harm our economy.


Bots are only getting better, and may soon be going after even higher level jobs than the cashier or driver. As this happens, we must remember that the economy is led by humans -- every store and factory and truck going lights out is one step closer to the entire economy becoming lights out. In such an economy, we the humans will be left in the dark.




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