Robotics replacing people in workplace

By Jordan Buie

In the wake of one of the greatest economic downturns since the Great Depression, it is no wonder people are constantly looking for ways to cut to the root of greater economic and social problems.

We have sought tighter budgeting restraints on companies who have indulged in over-spending and unfair business practices and have given a closer look at American jobs being outsourced to non-residents. However, it is interesting to think perhaps there is a different sort of outsourcing, a wave of industrialism that is not only taking jobs away from your average working man, but also removing a sense of purpose from the human race. Consider these examples:

You drive to the local Movie Gallery on a Friday night to rent the new release of a film you have been waiting to see for months. As you pull into the parking lot, not a soul is there, and you see a sign stuck on the door saying the business is permanently closed. In frustration, you turn to walk back to your car and notice a long line of people standing before a red vending machine outside a McDonald’s across the street. An entire video store and all of its workers have been replaced by a machine. Movie Gallery has had to close thousands of their stores because they have not been able to compete with alternative rental outlets.

You walk into a grocery store to buy food and as you walk back to the front of the store to check out, you only see one cashier and multiple check-out lines. The store has decided that it is more cost-efficient to have one worker manage six automated check-out machines than have to pay six extra workers.

Last, consider the newspaper you are holding in your hands. There is a chance that in the near future such newspapers will be a rare commodity, put to death by readers’ lower attention spans and fast, cheap, easily accessible copy elsewhere. However, once newspaper jobs are gone, who is going to continue writing the news for free?

Some people seem to think the job market is not being taken away by technology, and that the types of jobs people do are simply changing. Although this is true to some extent, the number of jobs-to-people ratio is not exactly the same.

If it were people who were creating the Redbox machines or the automated cashiers it would be one thing, but chances are the companies manufacturing these machines are following along with other major players that use robotic assembly lines. Why, one might ask? The answer is convenience.

Robotworx, a leading company producing robots used for assembly lines, gave a few reasons on their Web site, www.robots.com, why robots are more convenient. In bold letters, the Web site boasts “no fatigue, more output, better performance and savings” as the reasons why companies should consider using robots rather than humans.

Advancements in technology and convenience may pad the pockets of rich corporations, but as we gradually seek to eradicate the work force of any fatigue and constantly seek more output, better performance and savings, we also take away the human element.

We must realize that although inconvenience is not what we enjoy, it creates work, and from the standpoint of an economic system in which jobs provide income that allows for survival, work is a necessary part of society. Without work humans lose purpose.

If the idea of humans eventually being replaced by robots as a result of greed and the industrial revolution seems like something from a science fiction novel, that is because it is. Kurt Vonnegut painted the picture of such a world in his first novel, “Player Piano,” published in 1954.

In Vonnegut’s world, capitalism’s drive for an industry driven by automated assemblies led to an overall decline in the quality of life. As automated industry eliminated the need for human laborers, the lower class was left at the mercy of the upper class in hopes that they might receive some of the few available managerial positions. However, most of the jobs available required intensely specialized doctorate-level degrees.

As scary as it sounds, Vonnegut’s work holds some similarities to changes that are happening within our own society. If we do not see the importance of slowing down our advancements so we have jobs for people rather than constantly trying to eliminate them, we might be heading down a rather unfortunate road. The next time you go shopping and your first instinct is to rush to the automated check out, maybe think that the store is keeping track of numbers and the cashier’s job two lanes down might be in danger.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.