Should We Embrace The Automation Of Monotonous Jobs?

There’s always pushback when we talk about all of the jobs that computers and robots can and will likely be qualified to do in the near future. This is because we don’t want to think about the people who used to do those jobs no longer have a paycheck and stability, right?

Well, this Redditor says that we’re looking at it all wrong. Between the physical danger many of these jobs create as well as the toll on people’s mental health, maybe we should consider the fact that this could open them up to new possibilities and a better way of life.

CMV: We should be embracing automation to replace monotonous jobs from changemyview

These 16 Redditors are jumping on, hoping to change this person’s mind – so let’s take a look at see whether or not they’ve succeeded.

16. Tongue in cheek.

Temporary because the ones that can’t pivot and reeducate or reskill eventually take care of the problem for us right?

Are there no prisons? And the Union workhouses? Are they still in operation? The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then? I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.

If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.

15. It’s a fear of the unknown.

I mean, so, it’s not so much that people are against automation on principle, it’s more of a worry of implementation.

The only problem is that we do not know what will happen to the people who loose their jobs because of automation – I mean, perhaps some of them will be able to pursue different careers, but we just don’t know what will happen to them.

I mean, we can try to estimate what will happen when we look at technological advancements through out history. Doing so reveals a commonality – in times of technological changes in the workforce, the lower class is often effected negatively early on until legislation eventually arises that offer protection.

Just judging from the political climate in the United States, lower class protective legislation is pretty unlikely to pass in an effective form. So, what will most likely happen immediately is that a lot of lower income people will loose their jobs, and find increased difficulty in pursuing new employment. Unless we introduce legislation that would allow them to pursue the education required for higher skilled professions, they’re kind of fucked.

But the solution of course is not to fight against automation, automation is inevitable, and like you clearly understand – not inherently a bad thing. It will, however, have negative consequences, which we must prepare for by bolstering social programs such as welfare, or UBI, mentorship programs, etc. Because if we do not prepare for the consequences, a lot of people will suffer.

14. We’ll have to find a new comfort level with unemployment.

To start with, I do agree with you and have tried to promote views that would encourage automation since it’d increase production, ultimately leading to a stronger economy and better lives. But since this is a CMV I’ll give my best counterpoints based on the current situation of wealthy nations:

An accelerated transition to automation needs safety net infrastructure we don’t currently have (UBI, Negative income tax, etc.). A lot of people have the idea that the labour will be moved elsewhere into new jobs when that’s not necessarily true and is almost for sure not instantaneous. This will mean some of the people displaced by automation will have no where to go at least for the time being and if that’s millions of people, those people will need a means to survive if everyone wants a stable society (which they should).

There will need to be a cultural transition where people need to get comfy being unemployed for a bit and everyone else will need to learn to not hate them. This is a bigger problem in certain countries than others, but if automation is accelerated, we will end up in a situation where there will be groups of people who are pushed from one job that gets automated to another. This should be fine IF they have support and can live a good life but others need to know why they are unemployed and have some empathy for it.

There is a non-zero chance that this may inadvertently lock-in poor countries into their economic conditions. If countries that can afford to automate their industries choose to do so, it could make poor nations unable to compete despite having cheaper labour costs. This is a problem if there’s not enough academic institutions in the area that are able to teach the skills needed to be compatible with an automated economy but it can also be a problem if the industry there is non-existent or outdated and unable to be updated.

The economic path that this would probably lead to is either slave-like conditions or wealthier nations plundering the poorer nations natural capital, a common proactive already but it could be exacerbated by the productivity gap. This is a problem with solutions such as giving foreign aide but it does require some though.

13. Something to consider.

Jobs that can be easily automated are normally held by people who cannot easily learn to do the jobs that replace them (maintenance ect). This is not a point against automation per se, but it is a consideration once must take when implementing automation.

That is, a larger swath of the population will be cordoned out of the job market because of the increasing complexity of needed jobs.

This may eventually create a high functioning worker class that will have to keep automation running so that the non-worker class can survive at all.

It will be difficult to justify why the non-workers are supported while contributing minimally, but the workers toil away at the “essential work” with all the spoils of their effort increasingly going to the non-worker class.

This would eventually be solved when automation is fully realised and all humans become part of the non-worker class.

12. Maybe the people can fix the robots.

Theres one problem which is often missed here.

Say you have a shop, where 10 people have the job of refilling the shelves.

Now, say you automate filling supermarket shelves. A little robot runs round, restacking stuff on shelves. Robots are generally quicker, so let’s say one robot can do the work of 2 people, so you would think you only need 5 robots.

In reality you need less than that since robots can work pretty much constantly, where people need breaks, days off, have maximum hours per day, etc, etc, etc. So let’s say you only actually need 3 robots.

Do you think maintaining those 3 robots creates 10 jobs? Do you think all 10 of those original people are capable of going through the training to be able to fix those robots? As someone who works in maintenance, I certainly don’t.

So when you say “automation creates some jobs”, that’s true. But it certainly isn’t a 1 to 1 replacement and the jobs are created in the higher skilled professions and trades, not in the low skilled jobs they are replacing. Not everyone who loses their job due to it being automated will be capable of making the jump to the higher skilled jobs created.

11. Fear is a great motivator.

As a general note, when people are against things that are seemingly obviously good (automation, green technology, improved civil rights). They tend to be worried that the changes will negatively impact them.

Automation: If my job goes away, what job am i going to do? How will I live?

Green technology: If i’m in fossil fuels, what job am i going to do? If I own polluting technology, how much is it going to cost me to change my stuff?

Improved civil rights: If I have so many right now, what rights am I going to lose? What opportunities will be decreased? I like my life now, how will my way of life change?

Understanding the impacts of advancements is critical to understanding why people are against change. It’s often to easy to malign people instead of listening. In all of these scenarios I think the fears are valid and we need to attempt to understand and address them as part of a solution or they will create new challenges.

10. The numbers don’t add up.

If you automate all the low end jobs out of existence, what happens to the workers who used to do those jobs? Right now the answer seems to be ‘they are out on the street, f*ck them’.

So while you claim that this improves peoples lives, most people who do low end jobs would rather be doing that job than be homeless and unable to feed their family.

Let’s take McDonalds. Let’s say a McDonalds has 4 cashiers on duty, each making say $15-20k/year. For $10k give or take they can install an ordering kiosk which will run 24/7 without breaks, without vacation, won’t file lawsuits when mistreated, won’t show up drunk/high/tired to work, won’t miscount or steal money, etc etc.

So let’s say the McDonalds buys 3 kiosks and keeps one cashier for the elderly/boomers that refuse to use a touch screen. They’ve spend $30k and are now saving $45-$60k/year. Great deal for them.
You also have 3 people that are out of a job, and need $15-20k/year to survive. Shitty deal for them.
Yes this ‘creates jobs’- a touchscreen repair tech, but that one guy can handle dozens if not hundreds of stores. McDonalds can pay him $60k/year and still be way ahead.

So if we lay that out over an area with say 50 stores, assuming they are all identical, there are now 150 jobs lost, 1 job created, and McDonalds overall saves between $2.25 million and $3 million per year.

I get that this math is simplistic, but even if you complicate it with part time workers, different shifts for peak hours, store size, etc the result is the same- McDonalds saves a bundle, lots of workers no longer have jobs.

So how do we as a society take care of those 150 unemployed people? Answer this and you have a recipe for future utopia. Without that answer, you have as you say everything owned by a handful of quadrillionaires.

9. It probably won’t be temporary.

Not so much as you may have imagined. With automation previously this was true. However, new automation has actually killed more jobs then its created.


Blockbuster at its high in 2004 had:

84,000 workers

And made

$6billion in revenue

To the opposite Netflix in 2016

4,500 employees

And made $9billion in revenue

So, by automating the shop via the Internet, Netflix has wiped out those jobs. As with many new technologies that are being introduced. A new management software is seeing to replace more complex jobs by breaking them into the sum of their parts by watching others do it. So, not only will the more single action jobs such as manufacturing go, but more complex jobs like accounting may go as well.

8. People may not be qualified for other jobs.

Why do you think people take “physically, mentally damaging” jobs, in the first place? Why do you think people take “low skilled industrial production, construction, agriculture and mining jobs” with “the most, sometimes lethal, injuries”?

You are talking about the job market as if it weren’t a market, but a bunch of people sitting around deciding on how things should be, as if there were a discussion, “Well, now, we’ll have Bob and Sue risk their health, sanity, and lives doing difficult dangerous physical labor” to which Bob and Sue might say, “Hmm, well, how about we some robots to do it instead.”

But it’s not. Bob and Sue aren’t taking those jobs because of some consensual agreement that might be renegotiated. They are taking those jobs because under capitalism everyone has to have a job (or job-alternative), and that generally means competing for one’s job with everyone else who wants one, and that in turn means you have to have some edge, and the only edge Bob and Sue have with which to compete is willingness and ability to take dangerous, damaging jobs. If you take away, or even reduce, the number of dangerous, damaging jobs for Bob and Sue, what will they do for jobs?

You can’t just say, “well, get a non-dangerous, non-damaging job!” because, hello, if they could have done that, they would have already. There’s only three possibilities here: either, #1, Bob and Sue have no other options to make as much money as their dangerous, damaging job entails, and so the elimination of their jobs would impoverish them, permanently (e.g. the car manufacturing jobs go away so they have to work as cashiers at a store for half the wage), or #2, Bob and Sue have no other options to work at all, because where they are there are only dangerous, damaging jobs, (e.g. the coal mine closes, there are no other businesses hiring, and indeed collateral industries such as the grocery stores and bars go out of business), or, much more rarely, #3, Bob and Sue love their dangerous, damaging jobs and would prefer not to be forced to get a safer job they have no pleasure in (e.g. being a Hollywood stuntman – yes, something I’ve heard people talk about the prospects for replacing with robots and how that would be great, as if stuntmen wanted to be freed from having their career choice.)

In an important sense, I agree with you: nobody should have to take a damaging, dangerous job to have the means to live, but the fact of the matter is that they do. That’s why they’re doing them now. Automating away those jobs doesn’t liberate them from having to do them. It means either they move on to another difficult, damaging job, not yet automated, or they are economically devastated.

The real problem is the compulsion so many people are under to compete for jobs where their best chances for economic comfort or just employment at all are to stake their safety and their lives. The real problem is that this is what survival entails for many people in the society we live in. We would have to change how society works, on a much deeper level, for this not to be the case.

7. Some fundamental changes would have to come first.

The market will adjust. For the individuals affected, the effects will most likely be permanent. Some will have lost income that will never be replaced, some will never find new employment. Some will become homeless, some will die do to reduced access to health care since we tie that to employment (dumbest possible bullshit), and so on.

We simply do not treat workers well enough in America to make technological advancements universally positive like they could be.

6. We need to think a few more steps ahead.

The problem is not so much embracing automation, we’re already doing that. That problem is that it needs to come with measures to, precisely, make sure everything doesn’t end up being owned by a handful of quadrillionaires, which is the way we’re going know.

The problem is not so much about whether or not automation is bad, it’s about whether or not taxing automation to still pay the people who’s job robots now do is fair or not.

And the side of the political spectrum that says “automation is awesome, but we need to tax the rich and create universal income so that all workers don’t become homeless almost-slaves” is definitely not winning to the side that screams “robots are stealing our jobs and taxes will only destroy even more jobs! Taxes are evil! We need to go back to the past!”

5. It’s a lot of employees.

The problem is the jobs most likely to be automated right away are the ones held by some big chunks of the employed population. Factory/manufacturing, retail, agriculture, and driving to name a few.

These are not only individually large categories of (American) workers, when out together they can be the overwhelming amount of worker groups on the local level. Let’s imagine the farming, truck driving, retail and factory work all gets automated in a place like Kansas. What else is there for probably something upwards of %30 of the population

4. Once it starts, we may not be able to stop it.

I think you are underestimating to some degree what automation is and what it means. The automation economists warn about isn’t replacing boring factory work, that has already been done, it’s replacing semi-manual labor (like truck drivers) and desk jobs.

The average server in the US costs ~$730 per month to operate for an estimate of $8,760 per year. An accountant makes between $35 – 70k per year. This is a savings of up to 88%. There are similar numbers for truck drivers making $39-64k per year, and an estimated operating cost of between $4-7k per vehicle per year.

What this type of automation means is that ultimately there is less money circulating in society because a huge chunk of our society is now obsolete. Most of the future jobs are in human-human interaction and creative/ethical work. Things like elementary school teacher, nurses, human resources, Judges, lawyers, psychiatrists, clergymen, and public figures like CEO’s and Politicians will probably not be automated.

This is something that Stellaris gets wrong IMHO, since the robots in the game are basically star-wars style androids rather than highly intelligent but ultimately mindless machines. The only exception is when you play as a rouge servitor machine empire with happily enslaved bio trophy pops. Some might call this a dystopian hell-hole, others paradise. It’s all relative.

Gravity is desire.

3. We’re talking about people’s lives.

It doesn’t matter if its only temporary. If 20-40% of the workforce is no longer required for 5 years, that essentially destroys those peoples lives, making them homeless and starving for those 5 years where new jobs haven’t been created to replace the old jobs yet.

It also assumes that new jobs will ever be created, and that the people losing their current jobs will ever find a new job as they won’t retail and truck drivers likely won’t be qualified to become AI programmers and robotics engineers. More realistically, those new jobs only exist for new generations and the old generation just get left behind with no job opportunities.

It also assumes that those new jobs will actually come for that new generation. One way I have heard this new wave of automation being described is cars replacing horses. Sure, cars created new jobs for people to make cars and change oil, replace tires, etc. and it eliminated all the jobs required to raise and train horses. But, what about the horses? Right now many people are in the position of the horse, not the person tending to the horse or building a car.

I’m still massively in favor of automation, in the long run it will be great for society to replace many of those jobs and freeing up the workforce to do other things. But, I think we need to prepare for it, and to share the benefit of automation with all of society and not just let wealthy corporation profit from it. We should implement a VAT and potentially a specific automation tax to pay for UBI so that people will prevent a massive amount of people from having their lives destroyed.

2. We still value care being taken.

Let me ask you a question. Why do people buy manually made artisanal mugs, breads, and other products that are primarily made through automated processes? It’s because humans put a value in knowing that a product was the labor of love and individual skill.

While I agree that much of production can and should be automated, I believe there is room and desire for niche craft production of many products.

1. It only trickles up.

to double down on this, automation bonuses are not passed along to working class but only to the capitalist class. Wages are stagnated internationally

This is a tough question, I think, and too hard to answer on social media.

What are your thoughts? We’d love to hear them down in the comments!