I’m on the balcony of my room overlooking Waikiki beach. Taking a few days off. Walked over to Diamond Head and then hiked up. Beautiful view. Walked a total of about six miles. Then we did the Pearl Harbor visit and toured the interior of Oahu. This afternoon we’ll head to Maui for a few days. I’ll be back for the Packaging Automation Forum on May 4. See you there, I hope.

When I vacation, I like to take along some thought provoking books. Right now I’m finishing “The Lights in the Tunnel” by Martin Ford (Acculant Publishing). Ford’s a technologist and something of a futurist. He foresees a day coming when everything will be automated and there won’t be any jobs. If there are no jobs, then how will consumers (who are also workers–or soon to be displaced workers) buy things that the automated production will make?

I’m just getting to his prescriptions. I am curious, though. What do you think? Can we automate machines, then automate the making of machines, and recursively ad infinitum? Will automation drive the economy (not just manufacturing, but retail, IT, middle management, everything) down to about a 25% employment rate — that’s not UNemployment, but total employment?

Think of world history. Humans went from hunter/gatherer to farming. It took a long time, but eventually technology made it possible to reduce the number of farmers required to feed the population (technology drives employment down). But a new class (or several classes) of new employment sprang up. From scholars and writers to craftsmen and artisans. Then technology slowly (but more rapidly than with farmers) automated the jobs of artisans and craftsmen. Employment moved to large factories. Now automation has enabled factories to do more with less labor, but information technology grew to requre more labor. If we further automate manufacturing (to the famous man and dog) and if we automate IT, then there will be no more jobs. That becomes Ford’s thesis. And don’t think retail, because he thinks we’ll shortly replace almost all Wal-Mart and McDonalds workers with automation/robots.

Or, is that true? Are there jobs we can’t yet see springing up that will absorb the newly unemployed? In fact, I’m seeing a lot of return to craftsmen. Or is there something else? What do you think?

I think this will become my June editorial in Automation World.

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