Technology: The Cybernated Generation

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Men such as IBM Economist Joseph Froomkin feel that automation will eventually bring about a 20-hour work week, perhaps within a century, thus creating a mass leisure class. Some of the more radical prophets foresee the time when as little as 2% of the work force will be employed, warn that the whole concept of people as producers of goods and services will become obsolete as automation advances. Even the most moderate estimates of automation's progress show that millions of people will have to adjust to leisurely, "nonfunctional" lives, a switch that will entail both an economic wrench and a severe test of the deeply ingrained ethic that work is the good and necessary calling of man.

Liberated Brainpower. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, each major technological advance has caused unemployment, but society has somehow managed on each occasion to adjust and go forward. If the new technology eliminates many of the jobs that man has been accustomed to doing, it is also bound to expand greatly the level and variety of human wants. If U.S. farms had never mechanized, for instance, and thus displaced a large pool of labor, the U.S. would have been hard pressed for workers to develop its present industrial might. Says Dr. Yale Brozen, a University of Chicago economist: "Society uses whatever number of people it has. Seventy years ago, 50% of the population farmed. Now only 7% does. That enormous change took place in just a couple of generations."

Automation is also certain to liber ate both manpower and brainpower to tackle tasks hitherto considered impossible and to meet human needs till now deemed impractical. The world, after all, could certainly use a lot of improvement. "What the hell are we making these machines for," says Dr. Louis Fein, a California computer consultant, "if not to free people?" Many scientists hope that in time the computer will allow man to return to the Hellenic concept of leisure, in which the Greeks had time to cultivate their minds and improve their environment while slaves did all the labor. The slaves, in modern Hellenism, would be the computers.

On the rocky road back to this Garden of Eden, a lot of people are bound to suffer for a while. But by gradually raising educational levels, retraining those displaced by automation, and seeing to it that displaced workers retain their buying power, society will somehow gradually manage to support the change. So far, the installation of computers in some industries has required so many new skills that the total unemployment level has hardly changed. In many cases, the computer has not meant an overall loss of jobs so much as a change in the type of jobs done. Says Sir Leon Bagrit: "Mechanization has sometimes given millions of people subhuman work to do. Automation does the exact opposite."

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