June 05, 2015

Work and Technology

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

NPR recently ran a story with a fun interactive calculator that estimates the chances that technology will automate or replace people in a specific type of job.

Of course, I had to look up sociologists! The good news is that we only have a 5.9 percent chance of being automated. Whew!

Many sociology graduates use their skills to work in marketing or other types of jobs that require survey research. What are the chances of those types of jobs becoming automated? A bit higher, at 23.1 percent. Sociology graduates often go into social work or counseling of some type.  Those in mental health and substance abuse fields have only have a 0.3 percent of being automated.

So, should we make our occupation and professional choices based on data findings like these? That’s actually a huge question with many facets. Before we decide that this information is crucial for forming opinions or future plans or goals,  let’s assess the basis of these findings.

Notice the criteria that they are using for these estimates. They focus on the tasks of the job including coming up with clever solutions (creative intelligence), personally helping others (social intelligence), negotiation (social intelligence), and squeezing into small spaces (perception and manipulation). This last item has to do with dexterity and cramped work space or awkward positions, things that humans might be better at than machines( at least so far). The paper describes the definition of each of these in much more detail, as all research reports should do.

NPR notes that “The researchers admit that these estimates are rough and likely to be wrong.” The researchers, Frey and Osborne, are professors in Economic History and are in Engineering Sciences and Machine Learning, respectively. As such, they begin their paper with Keynes’ prediction of “widespread technological unemployment.” Their literature review is based firmly in economics.

Using a sociological perspective, what can we add to this conversation?

Specifically, what do you think Marx would say?  This work corresponds directly to Marx’s ideas on the development of capitalism, particularly in its later stages and into his speculation on what economic form might follow the collapse of capitalism. (Keep in mind that his label for that economic form, communist, meant something different when he wrote it than what it has come to mean since then.)

In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. (Marx, German Ideology ,1845.)

“Nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity” suggests a number of things. Perhaps people won’t have one profession in which they work for 20-40 years and retire with a gold watch. Perhaps people would retrain and take on multiple jobs in different fields as their work life continues over time. Perhaps, as he saw the end of the guild system of artisans and craft work, that basic work and jobs in society are done by technology, thus people don’t need those particular skills of expertise, especially when technology could easily replace human labor.

“Society regulates the general production” also basically means that, in one interpretation, technology will take over more and more of the labor.

These things are, indeed, happening.

As technology helps societies become ever more productive, more and more people are ”free” to pursue other activities. Marx’s quote sounds lovely; we are free to hunt, fish, rear cattle, and have intellectual debates, all in one day. Actually, it sounds like a rather busy day. (I wonder, how does one spend only an evening rearing cattle?)

“Each can become accomplished in any branch” is the most problematic point here since it ignores the reality “accomplished” does take focus and time to become adept and skilled. But that doesn’t negate the point of the rest of the paragraph.

However, our reality of being in this time frame – living in late capitalism – rather than one in which Marx was speculating, suggests that human freedom is about the freedom from employment.

It seems that in this stage of economic development, corporations (owners) are bringing in more and more profit while people (workers) are effectively, and increasingly, unemployed.

When we are unemployed, we are “free” to do whatever, whenever. That is, if what we do doesn’t require funds or resources, most of which we derive from working.

The real challenge of our times is to invent or discover new forms of economies, so that we might create a new economic form that would work to not only keep the economic engines running, but support people in living healthy and fulfilling, i.e., non-exploited, lives.

Do you see any likely forms emerging?

Bartering is making a comeback, as people trade services or goods with each other, without exchanging actual money.  It’s a very old form of exchange but it’s not likely to structure an entire economy.

Are Uber and Airbnb examples of what a different economy might look like? People can rent out their driving or home to others, removed from the corporate model of generating capital. Or are they just tools of capitalism to bust unions and further exploit those who work for or with them?

What about Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and Quirky? These crowd-funding sites allow people to contribute to what might become businesses if the funding is sufficient and the production is efficient. Or are these just another way of starting small businesses that large corporations may later buy and profit from?


Interesting article Dr. Technology is the major variable in social and economic change. One hopes ideally that the society can adapt to the new forms of technological advances and can fully integrate them. We right now have what I would call a technological lag between the increasing velocity of advancement and the societies ability to "keep up" with it. We still are developing new norms, values and customs that reflect these changes. Because these technological advances change economies, we ( In The US) are now in much more of a service based economy. Many of the standard middle class occupations of the past are becoming obsolete, and new skills that reflect these service needs and the demographic shift( gentrification in many industrialized societies ) must be instituted to ensure adaptation.

New Things can never be learn very easily. One must have to work had for it.

Work and Technology works on the same principal.

If you were a new learner to this then only you will get to know about the timings and other things.

Marking and managing things all on its name.

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