From the most excellent Virginia Postrel, “A Slow Motion Robot Takeover.” The robotization of cotton picking and the surprising automation facts of a job nobody wants to do.

I could not agree more with, “Radiologists and store employees have better, more intrinsically human ways to use their work time. … When such mind-numbing tasks disappear, few people will mourn their passing, any more than the children of sharecroppers long to spend their summers hoeing weeds and their autumns pulling cotton bolls.”

Three takeaways,

  1. Full automation was impossible without years of tinkering.
  2. The robot takeover created opportunities.
  3. Even when automation is unquestionably a net benefit, there are losers.

To that 3rd point,

How to help displaced workers is a hard problem. Government checks may save people from destitution but they can also encourage them to stay too long in declining towns—a lesson to those who see the universal basic income as an easy solution to technological unemployment. Adaptation requires more than money.

This concept is not popular among the people who constantly lament the loss of “good jobs” that involve repetitive manual or mental labor, but we humans are made for more.We carry around this heavy lump of gray matter on our pencil-necks for a reason. When we accept mindless jobs as the only legitimate goal for a huge swath of the population, we lessen our humanity. And a universal basic income to do nothing is not the answer either.  We need to quit writing off people as helpless to this technological progress and start delivering much more hard hitting messages about the future of work and education.