The Business Ethics of Automation and Human Obsolescence


Income disparity has become an issue of note and consequence in the US and much of the developed world. But let’s be clear; middle and working class families are not worse off now than they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago. They are worse off relative to the overall prosperity existent within the economy. These are two distinctly different scenarios and we should care about absolute living standards not relative ones. Every region of the world—save those that have been struck with significant natural disasters, war, or disease – are better off now than they ever have been. This is all due to one factor that is infinitely more important than fiscal, monetary, or international policy: innovation. While a wave of populism sweeps the world and threatens this innovation in the name of protectionism, to stand in the way of this innovation is to cumulatively damage society for generations to come.

Automation and the Digital Revolution

The steam engine is arguably the single most impactful invention in human history to date. It was the catalyst for the industrial revolution, a revolution that was fraught with uproar and objection from those whose jobs would be replaced by machines. Those who opposed industrialization were reasonably effective in slowing it, and thus their children were unable to reap the full prosperity of its advances. However, they did not stop it; instead this period resulted in the first ever demonstration of exponential improvement in quality of life in the history of humanity.

And now, barely 200 years later, we are on the cusp of another revolution in productivity due to two equally—if not more—impactful inventions that will raise living standards for all, regardless of the disparity of the share between classes. These are the emergence of a globally connected digital network and artificial intelligence. Coupled with the exponential rate of performance and lower cost of technological hardware per Moore’s Law, these two factors will bring about an era that will make all progress that came before appear minute. All of us are in the early days of the most significant period in human advancement.

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