Artificial intelligence is replacing hundreds of jobs across the U.S., creating skepticism and uncertainty about the future of humanity. It is a daunting development as even the creator of AI has warned about the technology’s potential takeover.
The reality is that jobs have been overtaken by new developments in technology for centuries, paving the way for mass production and creating outrage among those who relied on those jobs. From women who worked in the textile industry to switchboard operators in the 1970s, all the way through the 2000s when video streaming services took the place of physical video stores.
With every technological development that eliminated the need for certain jobs, people cried out in protest, including economist Maynard Keynes, who coined a phrase for the phenomenon.
“We are being afflicted with a new disease,” Keynes wrote in a published essay in 1930. The disease, he wrote, was “‘technological unemployment.’”
“From the sixteenth century, with a cumulative crescendo after the eighteenth, the great age of science and technical inventions began,” he added, referencing the turn to other methods of mass production, which, he said, has been in “full flood” since the start of the 19th Century.
Looking to the past may be a good starting point when looking at the future of technology in the 21st Century after a report by Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, Inc. found nearly 4,000 jobs cuts last month were replaced by AI. The fears of continued AI advancements are real and the effect it is having on workers’ livelihoods cannot be understated, but if the past shows anything, humans are resilient and capable of adapting.
And, as Walter Reuther, the founder and former President of the United Automobile Workers Union and labor and civil rights activist from the mid-1940s through the 1960s once said, “Either we shall use our new machines and technology to help us create security and dignity in the construction of a brave new world, or the impact of jet propulsion technology upon a huffing and puffing model T distributive system will dig our economic graves.”
The following jobs have become almost or completely obsolete thanks to technological advancements and show that history is not so different from today.