In his recent column, Mr Shanahan takes aim at self service checkouts, but he misses the bigger questions. Technology advances over time makes some occupations or even industries obsolete: how many people are employed as bowyers, coopers, fletchers, smiths, secretaries, or weavers? Technology enables humans to stop doing jobs that are mundane, monotonous, or dangerous.
The Luddites destroyed machinery that they believed was threatening their jobs. The issue is not the advance of technology, it’s how the benefits of those advances are shared and how the people negatively affected by those advances are supported.
With the advances in AI, robotics, and automation, we are approaching an era in the next few decades when many current jobs will be able to be done without humans. The questions we need to address as a society are firstly, do we allow a small number of people to reap the profits from AI and robotics, or do we ensure these profits are shared equitably across society? And secondly, in an era of significantly reduced employment, how will we ensure that everyone has an adequate standard of living? A universal basic income as proposed by the Greens may be part of the answer, and I’m sure there will be many other suggestions.