I noticed an article on Wired about robots stealing jobs
and got to thinking about outsourcing, this down economy and all the conversations I have had (calm and otherwise) about jobs moving offshore.
Ultimately I don't see any reasonable way to stop jobs from following a well established lifecycle that ends in automation. If you take any task that is currently done by a robot you can probably look far enough into the past to find a point in time when it was cutting edge technology and either a skilled technician or fine artisan performed the function for premium pay (Dot Com boom html programmers for our purposes). As time goes on the task or job becomes well understood, well documented and even taught in all the schools around the world and since the task is still highly paid (that has eroded by now) it attracts alot of people who want that job. Then the task moves toward commodity and the formerly highly paid technicians and artisans have chosen from exactly two courses of action. They have either moved on to the new cutting edge thing or they are moaning about the erosion of their value in the marketplace (blaming the marketplace of course and never themselves). Then it gets worse for this latter group since eventually (and eventually comes quick in the 21st century we have found) the commodity task is recognized to be cheaper to be done offshore. For high tech India and Egypt are hot along with many other locals (I just have most of my experience with offshore teams in these countries). The formerly high end task is drone work now and can be done by a bright student from any continent so the work flows to where it can be done most inexpensively. This is the point of maximum complaint by those who remember making $100 an hour for doing this task. They then stop paying attention just in time for that task to be automated by a program, system or abstraction layer so that no one would ever pay for it to be done by hand ever again. At this point you could probably hear people in the offshore tech districts complaining. This is progress. It is painful, but it is also inexorable, you cannot stop it and you shouldn't try to slow it down. Instead you should be like the other group of highly skilled technicians and artisans and find the next big thing and constantly hone your skills. This is absolutely doable in our high tech field.
I know this post will come off as callous to some and I am sorry if I am too blunt for some, but especially in times like these we have to stop looking back wistfully at the past and grab our books and browsers and dig in to invent and shape the next revolution. I personally think that energy and the technology that helps with conservation is the next big thing, but there is still lots of room elsewhere. If you view the lifecycle of a job as a good thing you see that it has freed us from farming our own food, making our own clothes and has allowed so many of the things that are best in our civilization. Embrace it or be marginalized.
Finally my apologies to those stock boys out there who have had their hopes and dreams shattered by R2D2.