I’m a phlebotomist by trade. I work forty hours every week in a private clinic drawing blood, processing it according to a physician’s order, and sending it to a laboratory for testing. It’s not exactly fulfilling in any existential sense and certainly not a field in which I’d honor my life’s work in twenty years, but for now, it pays the bills. That’s what I’d like to talk about.
American innovative genius, Richard Buckminster Fuller, once said,
“We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”
What strikes me most about this “radical idea” is that he died in 1983.
Unless you’re able to make your ends meet writing Medium articles all day, you may be able to algorithmically deduce the proper actions of your work routine according to real-time circumstances presented at any given moment. If this is the case, then your job can and should be done by a computer. If that makes your butt cheeks clinch a bit much for comfort, allow me to explain why this is good news.
The robot revolution is nothing new. The difference is they’re much more advanced and tend to appear flashier than before — that’s it. One accountant can now perform enormous data collection and complex calculations nearly instantaneously and without error which may have taken hours for hundreds of mathematicians to accomplish only a hundred years ago. Think of your washing machine, your dishwasher, the list goes on. Use of tools and technology predates even the Homo sapiens species, gradually replacing sentient labor all along the way. It seems a bit silly these days to mourn the loss of the classic switchboard operator from the ‘60's, and, from this perspective, it seems only natural for machines to assume their rightful places in history as restaurant waiters, drivers, construction workers… You get the idea.
We want computers doing the tasks in which we expect a distinct and predictable outcome. Not only would they probably perform the task without error but would likely increase speed of performance or production and accomplish all this for a fraction of the cost without a unionized backlash.
Now for the glaringly obvious question: what about my income? This is a very important question — one in which we struggle with every technological advancement replacing the work of a person, and one in which we must prepare to tackle on the largest scale in history. We’re already behind in productivity and technological potential for this very reason, and its integration into society is an inevitability, not a possibility. So, if you have a rote job, like me, one should not be asking if, but rather when will technology supersede my own value of contribution to society.
The solution, from an objective point of view, is simple: we must rethink the economy and structure it in a way which provides for its citizens, insofar as it allows its citizens to benefit society to their maximum potential. Why haven’t we accomplished this yet?
We are so inseperably adhered to the subjective viewpoint of ‘how can I make my living’ that it becomes irrelevant to ask, instead, ‘how can we, as a society, live better.’
This is especially true in America, home of the Grand Ole Party determined to shove its “freeloaders” further into poverty from which they already can’t escape. We are obsessed with the idea that for some reason anyone who doesn’t perform x-amount of mundane tasks per week doesn’t deserve to survive with any shred of decency, when the reality is that we’d all be much better off if we simply poured as much effort into maximizing productivity of our machines as we do forcing others to work jobs much better suited to those machines.
Is it weird to say that I’d actually miss phlebotomy? There are facets of my job I genuinely enjoy, such as patient interaction, and I have more good news: none of it has to go away! If you don’t believe me, head over to Venice and take a ride on a gondola. The once practical means of transportation around the city is now a tourist novelty, and everyone participating really wants to be there. My point is that no longer relying on mundane jobs as a necessary means of survival alleviates pressure from pursuing life’s pleasures without worry of your likelihood to profit from it.
How do we motivate and reward workers of those jobs which we cannot yet fully automate? How do we fairly allocate limited resources in balance with certain markets’ supply and demand? How do we most effectively transition from the survivalist economy to the prosperous economy? We could spend hours on each of these questions which would, in turn, spur hundreds more, which is why we won’t dwell on anymore specifics here; however, I do believe we can find succinct solutions.
If you’d like a vague and short answer,
Keep in mind that we do not necessarily have to eliminate economy, but rather allow the economy to work for the people instead of the people working for the economy by responsibly maintaining our resources, eliminating scarcity, and increasing productivity.
Transition is hard. Continuing along a trajectory which widens the gap between the rich and the poor and trashes our resources and environment is also hard, and considering we, as a society, have a lot of hard decisions to make in the near future, this is why I’d rather a robot take my job — so that I may have the freedom to improve upon the concise and algorithmic processes which comprise the science of phlebotomy rather than repeating an imperfected process several times a week. So that my human dignity is affirmed not by my ability to do mundane tasks, but by my freedom to contribute to society in a greater capacity than what can be achieved by machines. So that I can travel, laugh, and fulfill my one little life on this Earth to its greatest potential. That’s what we owe each other, and that’s what we should expect of one another.
Create your free account to unlock your custom reading experience.