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THE MENACE OF THE MICRO

Hardly a week goes by without some advance in technology that would have seemed incredible 50 years ago. Over the past 20 years computers have completely revolu­tionized our lives. Yet we can expect the rate of change to accelerate rather than slow down within our lifetimes. The next 25 years will see as many changes as have been witnessed in the past 150.

These developments in technology are bound to have a dramatic effect on the future of work. By 2010, new technology will have revolutionized communications. People will be transmitting messages down telephone lines that previously would have been sent by post. A postal system which has essentially been the same since the Pharaohs will virtually disappear overnight. Once these changes are introduced, not only postmen but also clerks and secretaries will vanish in a paper-free society. All the routine tasks they perform will be carried on a tiny silicon chip. As soon as this technology is available, these people will be as obsolete as the horse and cart after the invention of the motor car. One change will make thousands, if not millions, redundant.

Even people in traditional professions, where expert knowledge has been the key, are unlikely to escape the effects of new technology. Instead of going to a solicitor, you might go to a computer which is programmed with all the most up-to-date legal information. Indeed, you might even come up before a computer judge who would, in all probability, judge your case more fairly than a human counterpart. Doctors, too, will find that an electronic competitor will be able to carry out a much quicker and more accurate diagnosis and recommend more efficient courses of treatment.

In education, teachers will be largely replaced by teaching machines far more knowledgeable than any human being. What's more, most learning will take place in the home via video conferencing. Children will still go to school though, until another place is created where they can make friends and develop social skills through play.

What, you may ask, can we do to avoid the threat of the dole queue? Is there any job that will be safe? First of all, we shouldn't hide our heads in the sand. Unions will try to stop change but they will be fighting a losing battle. People should get computer literate as this just might save them from professional extinction. After all, there will be a few jobs left in law, education and medicine for those few individuals who are capable of writing and programming the software of the future. Strangely enough, there will still be jobs like rubbish collection and cleaning as it is tough to programme tasks which are largely unpredictable.

If we accept that people have the need to work, then an option might well be to introduce compulsory job sharing and to limit the length of the working week. Otherwise, we could find ourselves in an explosive situation where a technocratic elite is both supporting, and threatened by, vast numbers of the unemployed. Whether the future is one of mass unemployment or greater freedom and leisure will depend on how change is managed over this difficult period and how the relationship be­tween work and reward is viewed.(2671)


Date: 2015-01-29; view: 2618


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