Ten or twenty years ago a boom of moving manufacturing to low cost countries (basically labor arbitrage) accelerated with devastating consequences for low skilled manufacturing workers in high labor cost countries (like you know, the USA). Since then countries like China have seen their own labor costs rise to where in many cases the increased transportation costs are no longer offset by cheap labor. As a result we are now seeing the start of a boom in automation that will further threaten those same high cost workers. How do we balance the benefits of increased efficiency against the harm to real people?
The answer cannot be to turn our backs on automation (robots, AI, etc) as the global marketplace will continue to invest in this area and the USA (and other similar countries) will ultimately end up in a cold dark place. In my opinion we need to address the root cause here, which is that many workers are unable to generate enough value to justify their cost. Probably this looks like a systematic approach to re-training, worker development, access to education (technical and higher), as well as other mechanisms that allow workers to more easily transition from low-skill manual to higher-value work.
Furthermore I personally reject the mindset that automation will reduce the total amount of work needed; instead it just shifts where and what is needed. For instance, the average age of a skilled electrician in America today is 58(!) so in this area – and many other trades – there is a burgeoning need for skilled younger workers. In fact as buildings and power grids get smarter, the value stream of building them requires more and more higher skilled working hours to plan, build, commission and operate a new building. That work just isn't grunt work anymore; it requires a trained brain. Fortunately, mankind, when properly equipped, is really good at work requiring trained brains. Even though it is hard, it is the right thing to do to build up the brains that are conveniently attached to those hands that we no longer need.
A colleague at my company wrote an insightful analysis of this situation that I think is worth checking out. We definitely need open and productive conversations in this area. -Brian
A fun new term for you to use in your next meeting with the big cheese: "ramen profitable". And just in case you've been skipping my fascinating links about startups, most of them could be boiled down to this: if you're starting something, talk to your customers (and potential customers) early and often. Don't build in secret then drop it like it's hot and expect people to flock to your genius new product.
I like this story because it's a very honest look at how long it took for a small startup to become barely profitable enough to sustain its creators. – Calvin