Computational technology causes the world to change rapidly.Almost 30 years ago I got my first job as a computer programmer. At the time, only larger companies with a big administrative overload used computers. Or rather, “a computer,” because it was rare for a company to have more than one. There were no personal computers, no Internet, no mobile phones. People still used typewriters.In those 30 years, the way people work and live has undergone huge changes. That is exceptionally clear when looking at the kind of work that people do. Mailmen, for instance, delivered the mail twice per day when I was a kid – now they deliver mail twice per week, which means that the contingent of professional mailmen has been decimated. Bank offices are closed because banking can be done much easier online. Information desks can be manned by digital avatars or be replaced by online information systems. Large department stores go out of business because people make their purchases online, leading to an enormous decline in the need for having salespeople. And though this has currently caused a small increase in the demand for people who work in transportation, we can see self-driving cars on the horizon, replacing the need to have any chauffeurs at all.These are all “low profile” jobs, but “high profile” jobs aren’t safe either. I have taught programming to professional journalists, who told me that computers are taking over large parts of their jobs, writing basic articles and doing automated background research – they wanted to take my courses because they realized that without skills in digital technology, they would be out of a job in a few years time. Programs have been developed that take over a menial but oh-so time consuming part of lawyers’ jobs, namely researching case histories. Computers can write music, produce paintings, and even sculpt – why would you have someone hammer away at a block of granite for six months when a 3D-printer can produce a sculpture with a few hours of work? Even designing and running scientific experiments has been offloaded to computers in some research domains.In the 30 years in which I have been a professional worker, I have seen the job market change from hardly incorporating computers at all, to a situation in which the need for human employees has been reduced considerably – regardless the job. And that change has not come to an end yet.
Author: Pieter Spronck