Changing Gear: Toward a Human Kind of Progress

Written by Diana Cuzane

Just when we think we have the smartest smart phone and broadest broadband, someone designs a new even ‘better’ model. Technological progress is bringing smarter and faster solutions to everyday problems people experience. However, it does not necessarily mean that these solutions are beneficial, especially in terms of human cultural progress [1].

Technological progress and its globalisation are accelerating with such speed that humans struggle to keep up. Globally, innovations are not always perceived to have a positive effect on companies and societies. Studies show examples of people resisting or struggling to adapt to new technologies, which bring internal and external dysfunction [2]. Throughout history technical progress has been a massive driver of inequality in employment opportunities and has stratified society into techno-managerial high-income earners and non-technical low-income earners [2].

Further advancements in automated processes and machine learning may also replace high-income earners leaving them out of jobs [4]. To remain competitive in a technological market, people are required to learn new programs and acquire specific technical skills. However, continual upskilling does not guarantee a place in the techno-managerial class, as additional developments and automation makes it possible to replace previously irreplaceable human resources [5].

At the cutting edge of technological development, even Artificial Intelligence (AI) experts are not certain of where exactly their innovations are leading the employment sector and civilisation as a whole [6]. By aiming to create smarter machines, people are dissolving their own socio-economic classes, as well as the traditional knowledge accumulated by homo sapiens [7]. As with many strange counter-intuitive phenomena, the invisible hand of the free market economy is driving people to continue following this blind path.

From an economics perspective, every industry leverages technological innovation to make and deliver goods and services to the market more cost-effectively [8]. A particularly brutal method of cost reduction is to lay off skilled workers and replace them with less skilled workers who operate the new machinery.

The urge for innovation and the need to maintain existing technology creates a demand for specific skilled labour. Particularly demanded are STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates that universities and technical colleges strive to supply [9]. Consequently, STEM courses are often perceived as more useful and rewarding career paths, and hence are widely marketed by the educational institutions to meet this demand [10].

The greater perceived value creates an influx of STEM graduates in the labour market who are required to continually acquire technical knowledge to remain competitive [9]. The vicious circle of demand and supply requires skilled employees to maintain and develop further technological improvements to stay relevant. By using technical innovation to remain competitive, companies are inflating the importance of STEM subjects, giving rise to a constantly expanding recruitment drive for graduates of these subjects. The market is feeding of its own efficiency creating a feedback loop of endless technical development. The future of technological progress is believed by the experts to lead to the replacement of technical labour with AI which will generate a more unstable and unequal social condition filled with uncertainty [3].

Technological innovation has gone unchecked due to a lack of integration between human and technological progress, ultimately growing arms and legs [11]. Moreover, technological innovations reduce the value of human work and life experience, instincts and intuition, tacit and indigenous knowledge [12].

To deal with unchecked technological progress an intervention is required to disrupt the feedback loop that overvalues STEM innovation. One of the ways to achieve this is to incorporate SSHA (Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts) within STEM education. Transdisciplinary education has been shown to benefit businesses, stakeholders and society as well as the individual. CEOs and employees with mixed education focus on strategies to generate social returns in addition to financial returns, making a better world for everyone while considering the effects of the companies’ actions on the wider communities [13].

Another intervention to reduce the inequality within society would be to impose a tax on companies that replace labour with robots and other technology, such as that proposed by Bill Gates [14]. This disincentivises industries replacing their workers with robots and AI, as well as generating revenue to be fed back into social services. The tax revenue can be used to fund socially valuable projects, such as universal income where people receive unconditional basic income to meet their living needs [15]. Providing both above interventions would empower people to focus on developing human culture and retaining traditional knowledge, instead of remaining a cog of ever-depreciating economic and social value.

References

[1] Simondon, G. (2010) ‘The Limits of Human Progress: A Critical Study’, Cultural Politics, 6(2), 229-236.

[2] Mariano, S., Casey, A. (2015) ‘Is organizational innovation always a good thing?’, Management Learning, 46(5), 530-545.

[3] Kiley, M. T. (1999) ‘The Supply of Skilled Labour and Skill‐biased Technological Progress’, Economic Journal,109(458), 708-724.

[4] Naudé, W., Nagler, P. (2016) Is Technological Innovation Making Society More Unequal? [Online]. Available at: https://unu.edu/publications/articles/is-technological-innovation-making-society-more-unequal.html(Accessed: 16 November 2019)

[5] Strenze, T. (2013) ‘Allocation of talent in society and its effect on economic development’, Intelligence, 41(3), 193-202.

[6] Walsh, T. (2018) ‘Expert and Non-expert Opinion About Technological Unemployment’, International Journal of Automation and Computing, 15(5), 637-642.

[7] Gómez-Baggethun, E., Reyes-García, V. (2013) ‘Reinterpreting Change in Traditional Ecological Knowledge’, Human Ecology, 41(4), 643-647.

[8] Cobb, C. W., Douglas, P. H. (1928) ‘A theory of production’, The American economic review, 18(1), 139-165.

[9] Woolley, J. S., et al. (2018) ‘Undergraduate students demonstrate common false scientific reasoning strategies’, Thinking Skills and Creativity, 27, 101-113.

[10] Davidson, C., Goldberg, D., (2004) ‘A Manifesto for the Humanities in a Technological Age’, The Chronicle Review, 50(23).

[11] Cox, S. (1993) ‘Strategies for the present, strategies for the future: feminist resistance to new reproductive technologies’, Canadian Woman Studies, (Winter), 86-90.

[12] Reyes-García, V., et al. (2013) ’Evidence of traditional knowledge loss among a contemporary indigenous society’, Evolution and Human Behavior, 34(4), 249-257.

[13] Roach, C., Slater, D. (2016) ‘To make us truly human: humanities education and corporate social responsibility’,Journal of Global Responsibility, 7(2), 181-195.

[14] Delaney, K., (2017) The robot that takes your job should pay taxes, says Bill Gates [Online]. Available at: https://qz.com/911968/bill-gates-the-robot-that-takes-your-job-should-pay-taxes/  (Accessed: 14 November 2019)

[15] Arnold, C. (2018) ‘Money for nothing: the truth about universal basic income’, Nature, 557(7707), 626-628.