Tomas Kutaj

Business Development Director , Netbit


This conversation is closed.

Is Information Technology destroying jobs?

Last week in my company we have delivered system that made one of their labour hard process automatic, which resulted into people losing jobs (in the clients company)

As a dev guy I think it is great to save hard work but on the other hand I feel guilty that people are losing jobs. What do you think?

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    Oct 9 2013: I thought the whole promise of technology was to eliminate boring, repetitive and dangerous jobs - so we could all sit back and have more leisure time?
    • Da Way

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      Oct 9 2013: maybe the dangerous part, but certainly with boring and repetitiveness people will just redefine those with the changing technology. E.g. Operating a few buttons on a machine may be less labourous but certainly increases the boring and repetitive value.
  • Da Way

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    Oct 9 2013: I think I agree with the statement overall. Certainly technology 'transform' jobs. And in doing so by definition the old jobs that technology replaces will be 'destroyed', but at the same time with new technology whole fields of new jobs are generated.

    I think the total number of jobs are actually on the increase, just that human population growth exceeds that at a higher rate. If there is no growth in human population, then the fact that we are learning creatures means we will be able to perform 2 or 3 jobs in our career lifetime.
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    W. Ying

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    Oct 9 2013: .

    Also, it is destroying human equality, symbiosis ... survival
    by making invalid (harmful) happiness.
    • Oct 9 2013: What do you consider invalid happiness?

      Why automation should destroy human equality and survival? It seems that machines esp. medical devices allow most people to survive longer than without?

    • Oct 9 2013: So we should just allow technology to stagnate?

      Technology is tied up to every single little detail in our lives and our standards of living as a whole. Stopping it means that our standards of living stop improving.

      Its like asking people not to make the transition to cars because the horse breeders would be out of work.
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    Oct 7 2013: definitely. the invention of the weaving machine destroyed the job of weaving with hands. the invention of machines destroyed the majority of farm jobs, like plowing with an ox. guns obsoleted archers. cars obsoleted horse pulled carts. this is happening for thousands of years. this is why we have medicine, cell phones, flat tvs, cheap food, heating in our big houses and all the like. we want to keep destroying jobs that are hard, back breaking, monotone, unhealthy, risky and less productive. one by one, we want to hand jobs over to machines.
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      Lejan .

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      Oct 8 2013: We just have to make sure in this ongoing process that the availability of this progress is spread equally and does not concentrate in the hands of just a view. Otherwise, people who lose their jobs due to technology will lose the basis of their very existence, which we don't want and shouldn't allow.

      Once this is assured, lets move on with the technical evolution.
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        Oct 8 2013: a shoemaker can not complain if people decide to walk around barefoot, so he is out of customers. i don't think that many people would agree that walking barefoot somehow violates the rights of the shoemaker, therefore he needs to be compensated. such things happen, and we need to be prepared.

        it is amazing how many of these "social" recommendations can be simply explained by basic commonsensical psychology. fear of change and the feeling of insecurity leads to anxiety, anger and lack of empathy. people in this mindset often call for freezing all changes and/or declaring those that came out ahead evil. technology would elevate the life standards of millions, and probably give jobs to dozens of other people. but i don't care, because i lose my job here and now. i call "inequality", i call "exploitation". i lament that technology "kills men". and many people, fearing the future, will join me in my mad quest against change. the discrepancy between the words and the underlying motivation is disappointing.
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          Lejan .

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          Oct 8 2013: Technical evolution disconnected from social evolution is not just meaningless but even dangerous to the people themselves.

          Why should anyone be allowed to introduce technology which harms people? Doesn't make sense to me, as my understanding of technology is, that its only purpose is to support peoples lives and their standard of living and health.

          What could possibly be in the interest of the people who form society, to introduce on themselves any technology which makes their live more difficult, less desirable and less healthy than it was before?

          This logic may apply to you or other people with masochistic tendencies, yet for sane people this doesn't make any sense.

          Again your focus in on short term gain, by not considering any long-term consequences.

          A social community who decides to walk around barefoot would of course care for the shoemaker who just lost its only source of income, But there is no need to by shoes again to care for the shoemaker, if this was your concern on grid-locking technical evolution.

          There are other needs within the community in which the shoemaker can add his value, yet as long as it takes him to find and train for that so that he can earn his living again, a social community would step in to bridge this gap.

          Your proposals aren't social. You wouldn't mind if the shoemaker dies of starvation, as long as nobody tells you what to do while you feed yourself on the people of that very community.

          A human being is more than just a customer, a worker or whatever you reduce them to.

          Social evolution is what you keep fighting, as it undermines and endangers your parasitic mindset and behavior.

          You scream freedom, but your intention is domination. Domination of the strong to rule over the weak, of which without the strong could not survive on their own. Thats the parasitic part of it and got nothing to do with freedom.
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          Lejan .

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          Oct 8 2013: Technology is our tool for a better existence, nothing else.

          Would you consider a heart pacemaker helpful if its only function was to create ventricular fibrillation, causing death? I don't hope so. What was the technical evolution of such a device? None, as it doesn't help the the heart to function properly, right? On the contrary, this technology kills the patient, so why should anyone invent such nonsense? And nobody does, fortunately.

          So why would any technology be any better than that if it kills thousands of jobs, yet does not create alternative ones seamlessly at the same time? This would only be destructive to the whole society, so why do you consider this being any acceptable form of 'progress'?

          It isn't, as long as it is destructive towards social evolution and its social environment.

          I assume you wouldn't mind to walk barefoot pass a starving shoemaker, but do not expect social people to accept your behavior. It is not societies fault that your empathy has not developed properly, but I am certain people would care for you if you would let them.

          Besides that, I am very much interested in the development of new technologies and technical evolution as it has great potential to give all people a better life and not just a view. Thats what technology is about, to make our lives better than they were before. Not the other way around.

          Just think about it for a moment and you may get to see the beautiful potential it has to make the world a better place to be for all of us.
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        Oct 8 2013: sorry, i'm not patient enough to read 4000 characters. could you please summarize briefly what is your refutation for my shoemaker example? one quick runthrough gave me the impression that you dwell on technology causing suffering to some.

        instead, i posted a new line of thought on top level
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          Lejan .

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          Oct 8 2013: Summarizing? Nope, just take your time, Krisztián, this debate has 29 days left before it will be closed, no need to hurry.

          The beauty of this is, that we have time to exchange our minds in detail. To give examples there, where short statements are likely to get misinterpreted or understood.

          You may also take into consideration, that our views are highly in opposite to one another, which makes it even more likely that we don't understand the others argument if its written in less than 20 words.

          Even our definitions of words are different at times, where as examples have the advantage of visualization beyond those fixed meanings.

          No magic, just tools for a better understanding.
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    Oct 24 2013: You probably don't remember the time when programs were written punching paper cards. A whole industry lived of this punched card business. Over time, this archaic way of storing a program disappeared. Does that mean that all those people who worked in some way or another on punched cards lost their jobs ?
    In the short term, maybe yes, but eventually they just got other things to do. For example, the person who punched the cards later might have been the one entering data into the computer.
    History is full of jobs that eventually became obsolete, but there will always be something new to do so people just keep migrating from one activity to another.
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    Oct 13 2013: I think there are all way going to be enough jobs out their. I have always worked on the principle work smarter not harder. but it does not mean there still is not hard work to do. The biggest problem I find is most people just don't want to do hard work these days so don't feel bad. people tend to change jobs so fast these days instead of having a career. (starting at the bottom and working your way up) Is this a combination of information technology and government policy. eg. Facebook or txt people have every thing instantly they days instead of waiting and seeing something through. and in my country the government make it to easy for people to live on benefits.
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    Oct 9 2013: I think what we are experiencing globally is the metamorphosis of jobs.
    As a wise man once said, "Adapt or die".
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    Oct 9 2013: Don't feel guilty.
    In the 1980s for my Masters degree in Robotics & Automation I designed a robotic arm pick-up device to replace 3 factory-workers whose job-cycle time was about 30 seconds, ie: they repeated the same action every 30 seconds of carefully picking up a compressed-powder carbide-sintered cutting tip from a stamping-press and placing it on a plate 18 inches away (to then be fired) - surely one of the most mind-numbingly boring jobs in the world.
    If the company ever implemented my design, then I am convinced I released these 3 people (chained to a machine) to move on in life to greater things ...
    ... and how many millions of jobs have been created by new technology since the 1980s?
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    Oct 9 2013: IT in some form or another has been with us since about 3000BC. Based on the storage and processing technologies employed, it is possible to distinguish four distinct phases of IT development: pre-mechanical (3000 BC – 1450 AD), mechanical (1450–1840), electromechanical (1840–1940) and electronic (1940–present).

    Monks sat for years copying books and holy documents ... Gutenberg came along with the printing press (we still have Monks). Libraries filled with papers and documents ... along came micro fish .... Libraries are still here .... Computers / kindles / calculators / all have great impact. The greatest impact was the cell phone VS the home phone ... but they are still there.

    Cell phones and computers have created millions of jobs in the USA alone at NSA. Spying on the US citizens would be a difficult job without the secret intrusion into our lives. The latest invasion into our privacy is the signing up for Obamacare ... all information will be shared by Home Land Security, NSA, IRS, FBI, CIA, and many other agencies. Big brother found it costly to spy on us and collect information so now we do it for them. We are such good puppets.

    Technology does not scare me as much as we have stopped thinking for ourselves and have become dependent upon technology and those who control it to be in charge of our lives. The new survey says the average citizen checks their cell phone 110 times a day. As a employer I find that both dangerous and a wasteful use of company time.

    IT is neither good nor bad but thinking it so makes it so.

    I wish you well. Bob.
  • Oct 9 2013: I think technological progress is unavoidable. However society needs to ensure that technology innovation will not cause suffering and people feel the system if fair.

    During the last few centuries, new technology lead to job loss but at the same time a new kind of jobs were created. For example, computers replaced typewriters and at the same time created new jobs for programmers, designers, manufacturers, game producers etc.

    Today the trends seems different. The the current wave of technology is eliminating not only labour oriented jobs but also many office jobs. For example, self-driving cars, buses, trucks, taxes will eliminate millions of jobs. Similarly, in health care computers start to eliminate diagnostic personnel in hospitals, translators and various experts.

    Some of these jobs will be offset by new jobs in the service industry but can most people work in service industry? Some new jobs are opening in the service industry but will it be enough?

    The wealthy class that substantially benefits from automation needs to understand that they cannot increasingly accumulate their wealth without affecting the rest of the society. The society leaders need to realize that automation creates enormous wealth but it will naturally decrease the job opportunities for most people.

    We need either a system where minimum wage is guaranteed regardless of whether one has a job or not, or the society needs to employ increasing number of people for social services such as education system (e.g. have 1 teacher for 5 kids instead of 20) and health care, support of elderly etc. However we see trend in a different direction - governments are trying to save money by cutting jobs.

    If the wealthy will continue to keep majority of gains made by automation for themselves then they risk having people revolting against decreasing chance of finding jobs and money while automation leads to increasing wealth for the rich.
    • Oct 9 2013: I wouldn't go quite that far.
      Guaranteeing a minimum income means you'll end up having to pay people to do non-productive work. Aside from the obvious implications of wasting money instead of making good use of it for doing productive things, such a guarantee breeds parasites.
      This type of thing is one of the fundamental problems that brought down the communist block.

      People whose jobs become obsolete need to find new means of employment. The government would do well to help them along, but guaranteeing minimum income actually does the opposite, by encouraging people not to make the transition.
      • Oct 10 2013: Yes I do agree that guaranteeing a minimum income can be dangerous. Myself I grew up and lived in a communist country for almost 25 years. I could clearly see that if people were not rewarded then everyone performed poorly (why would you work harder for same benefits as everyone else?).

        What I am proposing here is a different scenario and implementation. In the (near) future, it is likely that many people will not be able to find a job because there will not be jobs for everyone. For example, imagine that all buses, cars, taxis and trucks become able to drive by themselves as Google car does. Where do you find millions of lost jobs for all truck drivers, taxi drivers, bus drivers etc? Similarly with other professions: we now have in stores self-check outs, expert systems replacing even knowledge workers. This automation going to increase over time.

        So what I think needs to happen in such scenario is:

        a) government starts taxing the wealthy people more and employ 10x more people in health care and esp. in education


        b) provide people with minimum wage guarantee. This might not necessary be a bad option because many people will not be happy with minimum wage. They will want to have a car, travel, have house etc. This will also ensure that jobless masses will not revolt against the government.


        c) we pass laws that will force companies and people to share jobs. I see this as a really positive change where people will work 3 or 4 days and have more time for their family, their hobbies etc.

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    Oct 9 2013: It increases the quantity of the jobs related to information technology.
    • Oct 9 2013: not enough to employee those who have lost a position and it requires a different skill set (which is changing rapidly) you also have to consider the individuals entering the job market - roughly 150k per month..
      • Comment deleted

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        Oct 9 2013: Yes, at least it doesn't destroy all the jobs, it also creates some.:)
        I think training is always necessary in the company due to the fast-changing world, the cost and performance ratio can tell us how much it worths in the job market.
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    Oct 9 2013: Absolutely!

    It was my job to destroy jobs for many years .. I destroyed tons of jobs in my time.
    The destruction of jobs forms part of every business-case .. it increases profits and can amortise the cost of efficiency .. over 1 year preferably, but "sellable" over 3 years projected (and tracked) cash-flow advantage.

    For a long while I revelled in my success. Then I became guilty after seeing the result of it .. all the suffering ..

    And then I realised that "jobs" are rubbish in the first place - destroy them.

    People need "work" not "jobs".

    "Jobs" is a token of currency in political horse-trading - and anyone in a job .. is a horse!!

    FOrget jobs - they are just for money.

    Work is for your life - and if you don't have a life .. you will not understand what I just said. I recommend that you find out.

    But .. then you must accept that the jobless will need help to understand. And that's communism - the ultimate result of capitalism. (btw - there is another name for communism - it is democracy).
    • Oct 9 2013: Mitch,

      I agree with you about the difference between work and a job unfortunately to see that difference requires an economic foundation and living pay check to pay check

      I have had colleagues that have left the technical field to become chefs, musicians, makers of musical instruments, gardeners, etc. following what they wanted to work in - They all had the economic foundation to do support the move.
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        Oct 9 2013: Hi Wayne,

        Many thanks .. That's a very important point you raise!

        The need for investment is vital for one's work.

        To get started, this is the traditional role of the family or community.
        If initial work efforts are successful, then the work should be able to sustain itself.

        In the atomised world of money and capitalism, the investment role is expropriated by banks and venture capitalists.

        In the past, I have used scrappy jobs to raise investment seed-funds and operating-cost gaps.
        If one's work is more expansive or less monetised - such as academic or social - then jobs must be used as a vehicle - for instance having a part-time job to fund study.
        The notion of "jobs" is almost unavoidable in the current environment .. but when you focus on it, you can see that they are not nearly as essential as we assume.

        You can see that "jobs" is part of the dynamic which destroys family and community.
        It does so to the advantage of the totalitarian state or the feudal corporation - aka warlords.
        • Oct 10 2013: Thanks for your insight and agree - calling VCs sharks is insulting to sharks
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        Oct 10 2013: Hi Wayne,

        You can't blame any organism for doing exactly what it's environment asks it to be.
        A VC is doing what it must .. so long as it remains blind to what things could be as an improvement.

        I Don't see sharks as having any better foresight than VCs .. but sharks are sharks .. VCs are purported to be humans ..

        Somewhere along the line, I accepted that the only difference between humans and other Earth lifeforms is that humans can see a little bit further ahead than the rest.

        Looking at us .. that definition seems to be a very small subset ... regardless of our capacity.

        Imagine if humans actually did their ecological job?
        I.E. looking a little further ahead?

        So .. in that sense .. a VC is a shark by choice .. and that is the element that condemns them when looking ahead is what is required .. not just for humans, but sharks as well.

        The VC .. in that light .. betrays sharks.
  • Oct 9 2013: After 50 years in the computer industry, I can say you are definitely right. Let me give you the politically correct message, "IT's role is to make workers more productive." or the non politically correct statement, "Get people fired."

    Let me give you an example. A thread manufacturing plant in South Carolina opened after the Civil War. It is still open today and producing more thread than every before. In 1900, the plant had over 400 workers and today, they have roughly 40.

    We are in the midst of a major change and those that thought they were immune will shortly find they are not and only a few will have jobs. By that I mean dba's, programmers, network support people, etc. We have seen it already in the Financial industry to a degree and the law profession has taken a major hit (more to come here).

    Some of my colleagues are more optimistic than I am - part of me hopes they are right.

    It is just beginning - as Mae West said, "Hang onto your hat. We are in for a bumpy ride."
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      Oct 9 2013: Thank you wayne for your open and politically incorrect words you shared with us.

      From my personal experience within the steel industry I completely agree with all your observations.

      Its going to get bumpy, very bumpy and many have lost their hats already.
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    Oct 8 2013: apparently, the topic is deeply attached to the nature of causal relationships between actions and effects. namely, it is essential to analyze the relation between introducing a new technology, and the resulting shift in the structure of the economy, and in particular, the job market. let me introduce a series of thought experiments, that supposed to shed a light on the issue.

    case 1. a restaurant operates in a town. another person opens a restaurant in the immediate vicinity. the two restaurants are similar in popularity, thus the clientele of the old restaurant is cut by half.

    case 2. a restaurant operates in a town. another person opens a pig farm in the immediate vicinity. the disgusting smell drives customers off, and thus the clientele of the restaurant is cut by half.

    case 3. a restaurant operates in a town. people watch the TED talk of jamie oliver, and many decides that they start to cook for themselves. the clientele of the restaurant is cut by half.

    case 4. two restaurants operate in a town. one of them cuts the price by 10%. the clientele of the old restaurant is cut by half.

    how do we analyze these situations? what are the differences, what are the similarities. at the end, we want to know whether the actions described are moral, legal, beneficial, harmful, fair, should be allowed, should be forbidden, the actors should be punished, etc. i hope i inspire thinking and not just the endless rehearsal of half baked wisdom.
    • Oct 9 2013: interesting thoughts. case 1 and 4 depends on many factors. Having more restaurants in the area can actually bring new patrons to each restaurant because their advertising for given area will increase. Also patrons are more likely to go to an area where they have more choices?

      If one restaurant offers discount but doesn't provide good food quality it might not impact the other restaurant.

      This is not sum zero system.
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        Oct 9 2013: for the sake of it, suppose the town can be thought of a closed system. for this, we only need to assume that below 1% of the inhabitants would go somewhere else to dine, and we have negligible foreigners around. cities too far, road too bad, not near main routes, etc.

        studying isolated cases like this helps focus on the concept, rather than looking for ways to escape the problem. it is a case of robinson economics.
        • Oct 9 2013: You cannot really say how many residents go to eat out without survey or measurements.

          There is a large number of people that will go to restaurant if they get incentive, whether it is a discount, good food, friend's recommendation etc. That is why I don't think having a new restaurant will necessarily decrease the number of patrons of the other restaurant.

          Such systems are really complex based on complex behaviors of individuals as well as the community.
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        Oct 9 2013: i did not say it necessarily decreases. in our concrete case, it did. we should focus on the question at hand, and not extend it until it will be too big to handle.

        or maybe your point is that your analysis depends on those numbers? so for example you say in case 1 and 4, your moral judgment depends on whether indeed the same people stopped going to one place and started going to the other place, whether their reason is not something else but the depicted change, and whether it is temporary or final. if this is what you are saying, go ahead, and explain present your subcases 1a, 1b etc.
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      Oct 9 2013: Well, then analyze, so we get to see how baked your wisdom is ...
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      Oct 9 2013: Just some quick remarks on what you may clarify or change before you do your analysis:

      Case 1: What are the numbers of both restaurants. Price calculations? Number of employess, wages, margins, raw food prices, energy cost, etc. etc. etc.

      Case 2: Impossible by law

      Case 3: How many people have seen the TED talk? What it the long term behavior of those people who started to cook for themselves? How many 'emergency orders' will be placed by people who failed in early cooking due to their limited talents? What is the rate of their learning curve? Distributions?

      Case 4: No information on popularity levels before price cut. Is the price cut permanent or a dumping attempt? What are the numbers of both restaurants. Price calculations? Number of employees, wages, margins, raw food prices, energy cost, etc. etc. etc.

      Not enough and and also inconsistent data for any analysis better than guessing at the moment.
  • Oct 7 2013: The sad truth is, sometimes people just need to find new means of employment.

    Denying the advance of technology is a backwards way of going about it. If we'd have stopped every new labor saving technology because people loose their jobs, than we'd still be moving about in horse drawn wagons for the sake of the horse breeders.
    Employing people who do less productive work may be well and good for the workers, but its bad for society as a whole. It causes stagnation.

    It won't even save the workers in the long run. You might be feeling sentimental about automation, but chances are your competition doesn't have such qualms. So they automate, and now they can run cheaper than you can without hurting productivity; best case scenario, your bottom line gets hurt. Worse case scenario, you're out of business, and your workers are out of a job either way.