‘What will the millions of middle-age, unskilled workers do when they are displaced by technology?’

Sunday, February 19, 2012
By Paul Martin

February 19th, 2012

My guess is that something like this will be part of the answer: Engineered H5N1: A Rare Time for Restraint in Science:

Two scientific teams have recently engineered the H5N1 virus to make it readily transmissible between ferrets. Given that ferrets are considered the most reliable animal surrogate for human influenza infection, the newly engineered H5N1 strain is probably transmissible between humans as well. The potential consequences of an engineered human transmissible H5N1 strain are stunning. Although seasonal flu infects as much as 20% of the world’s population—more than 1 billion persons—each year, only a small fraction of those with seasonal flu dies, most often the oldest, youngest, and sickest. If the newly engineered strain were to escape the laboratory (either by design or by accident) and spread as widely as seasonal flu with anywhere near the current confirmed H5N1 human case-fatality rate, it could endanger the lives of hundreds of millions of persons.

Via: IEEE (mirror):

What will the millions of middle-age, unskilled workers do when they are displaced by technology?
I have discussed this with economists, entrepreneurs, futurists, and not a single one was able to give me a convincing answer. Technology is advancing simply too quickly for the newly unemployed to learn new jobs. In the past, we have seen automation cutting the workforce, but unskilled workers all gravitated towards places like Walmart to find an easy (even though very unsatisfying) job. Now, if Walmart begins automation, competitors will have to do the same, in order to stay alive in the market. There would be no coming back for the shopping industry. It is an irreversible process; the replaced jobs will not come back.

The same will happens for millions of drivers, construction workers, and many others. But having these jobs removed, what will people do? So far, nobody has been able to answer that question. The reason for this, I think, is because there is no answer. Not in this system, not in the way it’s designed to work. The displacement of human labour in favor of automation will have a snowball effect on everything. With unemployment levels at 30% or 40%, the economy will collapse.

Without a backup plan to adjust to a new paradigm, we can expect the worst. Civil unrest, riots, police brutality, and general distress of the population will continue to rise until critical levels are reached, at which point the whole socioeconomic system will crumble upon itself. This has negative repercussions across the whole spectrum of the population, and it is against the interest of everyone on this planet, even of the richest and wealthiest people.

I think that if we want to solve this challenging problem of our time, we will have to rethink our whole economic and social structure. Rethink our lives, our roles, our purposes, our priorities, and our motivations. It’s time for a paradigm shift, one that will radically revolutionize our social system.

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