Man v. Machine

August 28th, 2012

Earlier this month, the Times ran a lengthy feature that explored how robots are replacing human workers in fields beyond traditional assembly lines. Draw your attention to this section, as I think the clash between protectionism for human jobs will represent the largest obstacle to the proliferation of automated technology–and not the technology itself:

Now Kroger plans to build a highly automated warehouse in Tolleson. Sixty union workers went before the City Council last year to oppose the plan, on which the city has not yet ruled.

“We don’t have a problem with the machines coming,” Mr. Graves told city officials. “But tell Kroger we don’t want to lose these jobs in our city.”

Some jobs are still beyond the reach of automation: construction jobs that require workers to move in unpredictable settings and perform different tasks that are not repetitive; assembly work that requires tactile feedback like placing fiberglass panels inside airplanes, boats or cars; and assembly jobs where only a limited quantity of products are made or where there are many versions of each product, requiring expensive reprogramming of robots.

But that list is growing shorter.

Soon enough, the tasks that lawyers perform will also be on that list.