Sunday, February 24, 2013

Automation and Work - and Freelancers

Automation was once considered the bane of the laborer. We have seen, however, how factory automation has not fully replaced humans. For example, China's "outsourced" manufacturing (and Mexico's) has led to more products, more cheaply available. And a marginally better standard of living in that country.

But automation is still a challenge. As this article discusses,

In the early nineteenth century, David Ricardo considered the possibility that machines would replace labor; Karl Marx followed him. Around the same time, the Luddites smashed the textile machinery that they saw as taking their jobs.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphThen the fear of machines died away. New jobs – at higher wages, in easier conditions, and for more people – were soon created and readily found.

In the growing knowledge worker sector, automation can help -- collaboration across time zones is more practical. Engaging teams with better productivity can result in more work, done more effectively. Results of collaborative efforts are often of higher quality, and delivered more quickly. Collaborative knowledge worker automation allows geographically dispersed teams in an extended enterprise work smarter, faster, and more effectively together.

Robert Skidelsky's conclusion is worth considering:

If one machine can cut necessary human labor by half, why make half of the workforce redundant, rather than employing the same number for half the time? Why not take advantage of automation to reduce the average working week from 40 hours to 30, and then to 20, and then to ten, with each diminishing block of labor time counting as a full time job? This would be possible if the gains from automation were not mostly seized by the rich and powerful, but were distributed fairly instead... Rather than try to repel the advance of the machine, which is all that the Luddites could imagine, we should prepare for a future of more leisure, which automation makes possible. But, to do that, we first need a revolution in social thinking.

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