1 Computers in the Workplace

As a "universal tool" that can, in principle, perform almost any task, computers obviously pose a threat to jobs. Although they occasionally need repair, computers don't require sleep, they don't get tired, they don't go home ill or take time off for rest and relaxation. At the same time, computers are often far more efficient than humans in performing many tasks. Therefore, economic incentives to replace humans with computerized devices are very high. Indeed, in the industrialized world many workers already have been replaced by computerized devices -- bank tellers, auto workers, telephone operators, typists, graphic artists, security guards, assembly-line workers, and on and on. In addition, even professionals like medical doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants and psychologists are finding that computers can perform many of their traditional professional duties quite effectively.
The employment outlook, however, is not all bad. Consider, for example, the fact that the computer industry already has generated a wide variety of new jobs: hardware engineers, software engineers, systems analysts, webmasters, information technology teachers, computer sales clerks, and so on. Thus it appears that, in the short run, computer-generated unemployment will be an important social problem; but in the long run, information technology will create many more jobs than it eliminates.

Even when a job is not eliminated by computers, it can be radically altered. For example, airline pilots still sit at the controls of commercial airplanes; but during much of a flight the pilot simply watches as a computer flies the plane. Similarly, those who prepare food in restaurants or make products in factories may still have jobs; but often they simply push buttons and watch as computerized devices actually perform the needed tasks. In this way, it is possible for computers to cause "de-skilling" of workers, turning them into passive observers and button pushers....