Have Our Expectations From Technology Been Met?

Last week we blogged about the hearing we went to in the Ohio legislature regarding autonomous vehicles(AVs) and the issues that are involved.  I want to continue this week on this topic but focus more on what Jason Swanson from KnowledgeWorks in Cincinnati spoke about and what we as both workers AND consumers expect from technology.

Jason painted a very bright picture of the advancement of technology particularly with vehicles.  He identified AVs that will be able to take people to doctors’ appointments or refrigerators that tell cars when to get something at the grocery.  That all sounds great and a little exciting!  Maybe it sounds just like an episode from The Jetsons.  But is it all good?  Is all this technology as great as it sounds?

Don’t get me wrong, I like technology.  I like some of the new technology gadgets that have come out.  I love my computer, tablet and phone.  I’d like my smart tv, too, if it had more capability but it doesn’t.  It’s also so much better than before when you had to get out to get a movie or go to the library for a book you needed.  It’s now available to you in your own home.  Not to mention it’s so much easier typing this blog on the laptop instead of a typewriter.

Have we gone too far, though, on technology?  In a recent Pew Research poll, Americans kind of think that way.  More than 70% think that way.  According to the survey, people like technology but it may be there’s a limit to it especially when robots take over the jobs humans do.

What happens when a family member relies on an AV to take them to their doctor but they fall coming out of the house on the way to the AV?  No one will be there to help them.  It could mean elimination of those who are caretakers.  It also means the loss of other jobs.  As Jason Swanson points out in his hearing testimony,  there will be no need for transportation drivers such as taxi or bus drivers or even an Uber driver.

He also brings up other things that could potentially make life easier but also have a trickle down impact on jobs.  Jason mentions insurance companies will need to change policies because of AVs.  Insurance companies like AVs because they are potentially safer than human drivers.  But if there are fewer accidents, which is nice, does that help insurance companies justify cutting jobs such as claims people that help to make us whole again.  Jason also says fewer accidents helps  police departments spend less time on traffic accidents.  Does that mean fewer police officers to help and protect us?

There are other jobs he identified that probably will have potential job loss.  These are delivery drivers such as the U. S. Post Office, UPS and FedEx.  As technology takes over there will be less need for them.  Drones and AVs will be delivering packages.  No longer will postal workers and other delivery people be needed to bring our packages or mail to us.  It also means we will no longer hear the stories about postal workers alerting authorities about things that seem out of character for a an individual or house or neighborhood.

Along with the delivery drivers and postal workers there is the same concern from the Longshoremen’s Association, the people at the docks where some of those packages we receive originate from as they came into the country.  They, too, are worried about the progression of automation and what it means to jobs in the future for their members.  They already have experienced a reduction in jobs as some have been automated.  They acknowledge, just as most unions do, some technology is fine but when it comes down to job elimination that’s not so fine.

Andrew Jordan, Transport Workers Union Local 208 President and also a presenter at the hearing, said one of the bus drivers happened to see a house fire starting and notified authorities.  Driverless technology can’t help save a home.  One night, my niece, sister and I rode a specific bus that takes you around downtown Columbus.  There were a couple passengers that had just a little too much to drink.  It was great they could rely on the bus to drive them instead of them driving but what if someone had become violent and we were on a driverless bus.  Who would be there to make sure passengers were safe?

A group of workers we’ve blogged about before were afraid their jobs would be eliminated because of technology so they decided to do something about it before it was too late.  They formed a labor-management committee to look at the problem.  Again, these workers were not opposed to some of the technological improvements  but wanted to make sure it was being used to eliminate their jobs. The committee ended up re-evaluating the work that was being done and came up with a much smoother, uniform process that everybody was happy with.  In fact, the workers who feared losing their jobs, had an opportunity to re-write their own job descriptions which was something that didn’t happen in their workplace.

In the poll from Pew Research, Americans are willing for more regulation to counter technical automation trends.  A majority of Americans think technology advancements will not only lead to the elimination of jobs but lower paying jobs.  That is something Jason Swanson says will probably happen and encouraged legislators to prepare for it. He says other jobs will be created such as someone loading or unloading AVs but the jobs he is talking about probably will pay much less.

It’s also not just about the job, as we’ve pointed out, but it’s how we interact with each other either on the job or off that’s impacted by technology.   A 2015 article on Huffington Post, talked about the impact of increased technology on children and their emotional intelligence ability. In the article, they tell about  something posted on social media one day may have implications later on which is usually more difficult for children  to understand but it’s important to also remind adults.  People that see a bus driver or postal worker concerned enough to help them builds a positive impression and a relationship that’s reflected on the entire organization.  Sometimes those types of episodes get lost as the focus is on numbers and costs and how to reduce them.

It also reminds me of the book I blogged about earlier, The End of Loyalty, by Rick Wertzman.  In that book, Rick writes, in the late ’40s and during the ’50s companies wanted to take care of employees so that loyalty became a “two-way street.”  It worked well until more emphasis was placed on profits for shareholder return.  Technology helps increase that return and those advancements in technology we like may be nice but they also hurt us and reduce our ability to interact and help with one another.  Maybe it’s time to have a conversation, a REAL conversation, as to how far we want technology to go.

If you would like to read the testimonies from the participants at the hearing, here is the link:

http://www.ohiohouse.gov/committee/transportation-and-public-safety

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About CALMC Blog

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to involving employers and employees to preserve jobs, resolve workplace issues, and promote labor-management cooperation. Visit our website at http://calmc.org
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