The Next Phase of the Industrial Revolution

Ever heard of the Luddites, who took their name from Ned Ludd? They were English textile workers who protested, from 1811 to 1816, against the development and implementation of labor-saving technologies. They protested against stocking frames, spinning frames, and power looms, all introduced during the Industrial Revolution, that replaced the workers with machines that required new skills, thus leaving them without work. The Industrial Revolution changed their live.

The Industrial Revolution had a similar affect in America. Seventy percent of Americans lived and worked on farms two hundred years ago. Today, machines have eliminated all but about one percent of farm workers' jobs. It also fostered the rise of unskilled labor. Most Americans not employed in agriculture performed some kind of skilled trade prior to the Industrial Revolution, but the new environment eliminated the necessity of apprenticeship for craftsmen and commoditized labor itself.

Why is all of this relevant today? For two reasons.

First, history is repeating itself. Robots are causing a new Industrial Revolution. Similar to what happened to farming, 70 percent (or more) of current jobs will be replaced by machines. Replacement by robots in most jobs is just a matter of time. As Kevin Kelly said:

This upheaval is being led by a second wave of automation, one that is centered on artificial cognition, cheap sensors, machine learning, and distributed smarts. This deep automation will touch all jobs, from manual labor to knowledge work.

Kelly stated that robots will "consolidate their gains in already-automated industries" by replacing assembly line workers. "Robots, able to lift 150 pounds all day long, will retrieve boxes, sort them, and load them onto trucks," thus replacing warehouse workers (Recall that this was one of Solyndra's uses of green energy money). Fruit and vegetable picking will continue to be robotized until no workers are required. The highway phases of long-haul trucking routes will be driven by robots in trucks (Google is trying to do that now with a robot-driven car, and the U.S. Army is pursuing this objective as well, so the capability is coming).

"... robots will continue their migration into white-collar work." All jobs dealing with paperwork will be done by robots. "It doesn't matter if you are a doctor, lawyer, architect, reporter, or even programmer: The robot takeover will be epic."

Mother Jones' Kevin Drum concurs. He sees a significant part of the "human workforce becoming obsolete by 2030 or 2040," caused by major economic shifts produced by robots.

When the robot revolution finally starts to happen, it's going to happen fast, and it's going to turn our world upside down.

Second, liberals blame labor-saving technology for unemployment and economic slowdown. Dear Leader Barack Hussein Obama, in July 2011, said:

There are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers. You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM, you don't go to a bank teller, or you go to the airport and you're using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate.

Obama blamed progress, in the form of robots, for the failure of his dreadful economic policies. And liberals are blaming robots for job losses and wealth inequality. For example, Will Oremus, senior technology writer for Slate, said:

Is it possible that the ever-increasing automation of everything from factories to retail sales to journalism will destroy more jobs than it creates?

Yet the current jobless recovery, along with a longer-term trend toward income and wealth inequality, has some thinkers wondering whether the latest wave of automation is different from those that preceded it.

Replacing manual labor with machines on farms and in factories was one thing, the worriers say. Those machines were dumb and highly specialized, requiring humans to oversee them at every stage. But the 21st century is witnessing the rise of far smarter machines that can perform tasks previously thought to be immune to automation.

Liberals are even proposing the regulation of technological advancement (am I too paranoid here?). Dr. Wendell Wallach, a consultant, ethicist, and scholar at the Yale University Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, said:

Because technology is evolving faster than ever before with little to no oversight or regulation, the likelihood of more jobs being replaced by new tech is at an all-time high.

The liberal solution is to halt, or at least slow, progress. And they call themselves "Progressives!"

Sir Winston Churchill said, "Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it." Okay, politicians of every stripe, technological advances changed America and the world 200 years ago. And it's happening today. So learn from the Industrial Revolution.

One aspect of the massive agrarian job loss in America was that the unemployed farm workers did not sit idle. Instead of lamenting their fate, waiting for government to do something and/or take care of them, they took advantage of the fact that new technology created hundreds of millions of jobs in entirely new fields. They took it upon themselves to do what was necessary to take advantage of the new jobs. They were not "wards of the state," did not have to be "weaned from the government provided tit," did not "wait for government to do something." Sure, some failed, but the vast majority survived the transition, learned new skills, learned to use the new technology, and did quite well.  America became, as a result, a world power.

Society must also learn from history. It's a "sink or swim" world. Swimmers will embrace robots and new technology, sinkers won't. With even high-skill "knowledge workers" being replaced by robots, what jobs will be left? Justin Reich of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society said, "I'm not sure that jobs will disappear altogether, but the jobs that are left will be lower paying and less secure than those that exist now." 

To address that issue, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Andrew McAfee says that "the education system has to change to prepare young people for a world in which most of today's jobs are automated." But a new education system alone can't prepare society for what's coming.  Individuals themselves must take advantage of the enhancements. Most won't, today's history tells us, if wealth is redistributed to them. Why work if they don't have to?

Liberals are already lining up to redistribute wealth. Liberals say that by embracing robots, the already rich entrepreneurs and top level management will get richer while the middle class and poor will be left behind. They advocate policies that have swimmers "pay their fare share." They are, in liberals' view, "society's lottery winners." 

Socialism (or wealth redistribution, or whatever else liberals come up with) was not, is not, and never will be the answer. As Margaret Thatcher said, "The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money." So if politicians continue to pursue socialism by enabling the sinkers, the money is going to run out.

Will politicians prolong the situation in order to get reelected until the swimmers say "Enough" and start a tax revolution of their own? The only thing that they will accomplish is delay of the inevitable.  The final results will be the same.

Another Industrial Revolution is coming (it may already be here!).  History tells y'all what is going to happen. And experts tell y'all what to specifically expect.  So the ultimate question is, "Will politicians (and society) learn from history?"