From Division of Labor to Artificial Intelligence

The division of labor witnessed in early civilizations has a direct link today’s robotics and artificial intelligence overtaking people’s jobs. With this revolution taking place in the job market, we need an equal revolution in our antiquated societal structures such as education to train for the skills that cannot be replaced by AI.

According to Wikipedia:

Division of labor is the separation of tasks in any system so that participants may specialize…

After the Neolithic Revolution, pastoralism and agriculture led to more reliable and abundant food supplies, which increased the population and led to specialization of labor, including new classes of artisans, warriors, and the development of elites. This specialization was furthered by the process of industrialisation, and Industrial Revolution-era factories…Also, having workers perform single or limited tasks eliminated the long training period required to train craftsmen, who were replaced with lesser paid but more productive unskilled workers…

The division allows for unskilled workers to replace the master craftsmen who trained for decades. With the industrial revolution and innovations like standardized parts and assembly lines, we can take any person and immediately put them into work in factories making sneakers and Ikea furniture. Similarly, with a global economy, we can outsource jobs to the cheapest labor markets.

It’s a small leap to go from unskilled workers to robots and computers doing the same job even better. Whereas, unskilled workers replaced master craftsmen at less pay but more efficiency, we now have robotics replacing the unskilled workers at zero pay and more efficiency. Everything from car assembly lines to the grocery checkout line is done by a machine now with the owner the primary beneficiary.

Today, automation replaces skilled jobs with artificial intelligence risking replacing truck drivers, stock traders, musicians, therapists, and even doctors. I have not seen anyone directly point out this direct link from division of labor to global outsourcing to robotics to automation/artificial intelligence.

Automation and job replacement by themselves would not be so distressing if society were adapted to fit these changing tides, but we are not adapting. So much of our modern education and therefore childhood and therefore families and therefore society at large is fixated around training students to becoming good workers. Yet, the education system itself was developed to create unskilled, complacent factory workers. Yet, factory worker with its relevant skills is no longer what’s needed. Our entire society is antiquated optimizing for jobs and livelihood that no longer exist.

The only jobs that matter are the ones that cannot be replaced by robots and AI then. What kind of skills and jobs would exist in such a world?

Our entire society needs to be revamped for this already present and continuing revolution. We need education systems, health systems, politics, and community structured around human development with skills such as leadership, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and perspectival fluidity. These skills are a lot less about accumulated knowledge or following procedures. With the exponential change that’s constantly happening, we cannot ever rest on our laurels. The key skill I would argue is mindfulness, how to learn to focus our attention.

We need to focus on becoming better beings in general.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *