Monday, September 22, 2014

Kansas future?

10/23/2013

I want to give you a little glimpse of tomorrow, but before we go there, consider this:

1. A Ford Motor Company executive was touring a Ford assembly plant with a United Auto Workers official. The Ford exec told the union exec, “We are getting to a point where we can replace every last one of your union folk with machines like these in this factory.” The union exec asked, “Do those machines buy cars?”

I want to give you a little glimpse of tomorrow, but before we go there, consider this:

1. A Ford Motor Company executive was touring a Ford assembly plant with a United Auto Workers official. The Ford exec told the union exec, “We are getting to a point where we can replace every last one of your union folk with machines like these in this factory.” The union exec asked, “Do those machines buy cars?”

2. There seems to be a rule of thumb saying that for every 10 products moved out of the United States to Mexico or China for manufacture, about half those products have or are returning to the U.S. However, for every 100 jobs that went with those products, only about 10 are returning to the U.S.

3. The economy is recovering, at least on Wall Street, but everybody is asking one question: Where are the jobs? At the same time, the GOP/Tea Party wants to cut food stamps, telling people to go get a job.

You might not see it, but the above items are related, and their root issues will affect a large number of people locally — not an “if,” but a high probability of “when.” Pretend you are a newspaper journalist and ask this: Is there anything else lurking as disruptive as iPhones/smartphones? Yeah, a whole lot of stuff, but for here, Ottawa, let’s take a look at just four of a few thousand technological devices ready or almost ready for use — RFIDs, “Baxter,” 3-D printing and driverless cars.

• Radio Frequency ID chips are in use in chemical factories, stores and warehouses like those run by Walmart or American Eagle, reducing the need for a substantial number of employees to track chemicals, clothes, food, etc.

• “Baxter,” a robot or one like it, with an ability to be quickly trained to do simple menial tasks, is capable with GPS, lasers, and RFIDs to move “stuff” around a warehouse, potentially able to flip burgers, deliver drugs inside hospitals, and a bunch more tasks.

• 3-D printing gives the capability of printing almost everything from artwork to trophies, truck and car parts, even rocket engine parts. The 3-D printer has the potential of making a well-trained machinist as unneeded as, well, John Henry, the steel drivin’ man.

• Google, GM, Nissan and three or four other companies are developing driverless cars with prototypes now deployed on streets and highways in California and Nevada, putting us in the fast lane for a time when we will be speeding down I-35 with no human driver in our car or in the semi next to us. While we talk about Google, John Deere, FarmAll and Massey Ferguson already have deployed tractors in local wheat, corn and soybean fields needing no human to drive them.

Living in Ottawa does not protect us from the high probabilities that high-tech gadgets are about to challenge everything we know and think we can count on. Like the newspaper pressmen, telephone operators, telegraph operators, ditch diggers, and so many other jobs from yesteryear, warehouse, fast food, assembly/manufacturing workers, truck drivers, along with machinists, and many low skill, manual labor job seekers are about to find there is no place for them — at least not in the numbers we have counted on for so many decades and centuries.

As we demand people get out there and work, are there jobs for them? Will there continue to be jobs for all of them?

As more technology pours into the workplace, replacing people with technology many of us do not understand; technology with no personal issues; hardware with no demands for any kind of pay or respect — what are we going to do with the people? What is going to happen when there are always 1,000-plus people competing for that one job that they might all still be qualified to do — the one that still requires a human?

We are willing to spend $30,000 to $150,000 per person per year to put people in jail when they break laws. So, what will we be willing to do and to spend to help people adapt to this new world to stay out of jail? Will we leave it up to each affected person to figure it out, to learn by themselves with no help, guidance or direction? Do we have politicians with the vision to see issues like this will challenge our ways of life? Do we have politicians willing to think about options to be taken today to offset the effects of such changes in the future? The answer to the last two questions: probably not. Most of our politicians will choose either the “do nothing” or “market” options.

There is a little glimmer of hope, however, as your state representatives have been traveling to all the state universities to see what damage they have done to our proud institutions during the past few years. We better hope they finally realize the best hopes for Kansans’ futures are to teach everybody how to design, build, program, and/or properly use those very same machines that are taking away your rights and your children’s rights to those back-breaking, dirty, nasty, dull, dangerous jobs that everybody has depended on for so many decades and centuries.

— John Holland,

Ottawa

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