The Challenge of Automation, 1965

Automation_Newsweek25Jan1965

Kevin Maney, “Will AI Robots Turn Humans Into Pets?” April 2, 2017:

Here’s a question worth considering: Is this AI tsunami really that different from the changes we’ve already weathered? Every generation has felt that technology was changing too much too fast. It’s not always possible to calibrate what we’re going through while we’re going through it.

In January 1965, Newsweek ran a cover story titled “The Challenge of Automation.” It talked about automation killing jobs. In those days, “automation” often meant electro-mechanical contraptions on the order of your home dishwasher, or in some cases the era’s newfangled machines called computers. “In New York City alone,” the story said, “because of automatic elevators, there are 5,000 fewer elevator operators than there were in 1960.” Tragic in the day, maybe, but somehow society has managed without those elevator operators.

That 1965 story asked what effect the elimination of jobs would have on society. “Social thinkers also speak of man’s ‘need to work’ for his own well-being, and some even suggest that uncertainty over jobs can lead to more illness, real or imagined.” Sounds like the same discussion we’re having today about paying everyone a universal basic income so we can get by in a post-job economy, and whether we’d go nuts without the sense of purpose work provides.

Just like now, back then no one knew how automation was going to turn out. “If America can adjust to this change, it will indeed become a place where the livin’ is easy—with abundance for all and such space-age gadgetry as portable translators…and home phone-computer tie-ins that allow a housewife to shop, pay bills and bank without ever leaving her home.” The experts of the day got the technology right, but whiffed on the “livin’ is easy” part.

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