Automation & Legislation

It’s no secret that our society relies heavily on technological advancements made in the past few decades to function effectively. It is simply impossible in this day and age to go a day without encountering a computer, television, smartphone, smart watch, or even drone (hopefully just one delivering your Amazon purchase and not weaponry). Even self-driving cars have been popping up everywhere – something I hadn’t even considered a legitimate possibility until under a year ago. The fact is that the world is continuously changing at an extremely rapid rate, but how can we keep up from a legislative perspective?

When our country’s founders were writing the constitution they couldn’t have possibly fathomed that one of their ancestors could potentially meet their significant other by “swiping right” on a small glowing rectangle, so how can our constitution as it stands address the ever-shifting world of technology? Specifically, what laws – if any – should be in place to regulate automation in the workplace? I know that I personally opt for the self-checkout line at Fry’s whenever possible, but with things like Amazon Go popping up, will human cashiers even be necessary soon?

An increasingly automated society is an idea that has been around for years, however, it’s a narrative that has been primarily categorized as dystopian fiction. This dystopian fiction is gradually becoming the modern reality. Even artificial intelligence is making its way into the real world. There are already businesses adopting software with artificial intelligence capabilities such as machine learning, natural language processing, image interpretation and the ability to conduct conversation. This idea is also coming to fruition in our own homes with devices like Amazon’s Echo. While these realities are a far cry from Kubrick’s HAL 9000 computer, or Vonnegut’s EPICAC XIV, it’s only a matter of time before they catch up.

With these inevitable advancements, we as a country must determine our priorities. Do we value efficiency over worker’s rights? A machine can’t get injured, or take a sick day, or get stuck in traffic. Sure, there may be a certain degree of maintenance involved, but you only need a few trained specialists to keep a machine going. From a business perspective, it would be foolish not to capitalize on investing in automation. But where does that leave your average middle-class American? Unemployment has certainly been a huge buzzword in American politics, especially since 2008, and our current president has made it clear he means to create a tremendous amount of jobs for Americans during his time in office. With the imminent threat of machines stealing our jobs, politicians will have to focus on legislating this issue in some way – especially if they are seeking future reelection. But with these advances in artificial intelligence, maybe our policymakers of the future will be computers. Our country is so politically divided as it stands, and there are so many interests at play in our legislature, a rational, unbiased means of legislation is exactly what we need. Whether the idea of legislation by artificial intelligence seems like the obvious the next step for human life or simply too dystopian to stomach, this issue will certainly be an interesting one to follow in the years to come.


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3 Responses to Automation & Legislation

  1. edander4 says:

    You bring up many valid points in your post. I believe that there will always be a place for humans in the workforce. Even if machines are more efficient, they will never amount to a human’s intuition, at least not for many years. Even if machines did overtake the workforce, I am sure that legislation would be passed to regulate the number of machines versus the number of human workers as to avoid mass unemployment. Again, this would not be for many years. I also think that machines can complement the work of humans very well. It would be possible to find a healthy balance between the two that would allow productivity to increase dramatically.

  2. morgandick says:

    You bring up some thought-provoking points however, I have to wonder how unique the situation is. Has the United States seen similar revolutions in the past that require game-changing legislation? The advent of automobiles? TVs and phones in every house? Personally, I think that the US has gone through several periods similar to this, but like you pointed out, I am not sure if any “period of change” has been a significant as todays. I will be the first to say, I get wayyyyy too excited when I see a self-driving car: almost as excited as Doug Ducey, (see, the banner he literally plastered across the Executive Tower at the State Capitol). However, automation and technology are not the only changes the 21st century has brought upon us that require further legislation. Last year, I had the privilege to intern an a lobbying firm where we worked on legislation regarding AirBnb. Fifty, twenty, or even five years ago it seemed ridiculous that people could earn genuine income from short-term renting their home, or even a room in their home. Our broad piece of legislation encompassed everything from neighborhood regulations to taxation. There are just so many factors to consider with emerging technologies or markets.

  3. mspivey97 says:

    Great post! I’ve heard a lot of talk recently about the idea of an American universal basic income to counter automation, and generally taking the focus of our society off of work and onto other productive pursuits like art, writing, or full-time parenting. Aside from an income, though, people derive a lot of their dignity and identity from their work, and they can feel alienated without it. To me, the best way to help alleviate the problem of automation is to increase access to affordable education, so more people can enter areas of the workforce that are more resistant to automation. I think it would also help if we introduced more educational programs that don’t require four years to complete, and can be done online. The universal income would also help more people pursue education. I think this is one of the most important, but least talked about, issues facing the U.S. and world today.
    Great piece from the New Yorker on the UBI:

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