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  • Travis Cunningham

How New Technology Transforms the Job Market: A Historical Perspective - Part 1

Red tractor sitting in a field

It is hard to finish a day without some talk or article about artificial intelligence (AI). Schools are having to respond to students using ChatGPT's to complete assignments. Police departments are having to distinguish truth from “deep fake” photos, videos, and even voice recordings. There is a growing fear surrounding AI. One area of concern is the job market. How many jobs will be replaced by AI? This may seem like a new question, but over the past hundred years or so, technology has reshaped the job market multiple times.

The Agricultural Revolution

In 1900, just under 40 percent of the total US population lived on farms. Today, less than two percent of the US population lives on farms. What started this drop in the number of farmers? New technology. In this case, the tractor.

The tractor reduced the need for manual labor on farms. More tractors and other machines were invented and became readily available to farmers. These machines took over the plowing, seeding, and harvesting, and other agricultural work. This led to increased productivity and yields with a smaller workforce. If you were an agricultural worker at the time, you might not have been a fan of this modern technology. It was a threat to your job safety. However, the new agricultural technology and machinery created new jobs and required the workforce to transform. This would not be the only time innovative technology transformed the job market.

The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was another time where technology transformed the job market. Reconfiguring manufacturing processes to assembly lines and using automated machinery allowed for mass production. This led to increased efficiency and productivity and reduced labor requirements. Many traditional manual tasks were replaced by machines, which transformed the job market.

Once again, technology has disrupted employment patterns. Many people were no longer needed to perform their jobs. However, new jobs were needed to manage and maintain the new processes and machinery.

The Digital Revolution

The digital revolution was the cause of the next major job market transformation. Computerization streamlined processes in many industries, replacing repetitive and mundane tasks. Tasks that took a person hours to complete could now be done in minutes with a computer. Automation further reduced the need for a large workforce in many industries. With this transformation came an explosion of new jobs and new industries. New degrees were developed at universities and colleges to help an entire new workforce become ready to be employed in the digital workplace.

The Information Revolution

The Information Revolution was another transformation of the employment landscape. The internet and social media have had a profound impact on job markets worldwide. E-commerce platforms, for instance, have disrupted traditional brick-and-mortar retail, leading to the closure of many physical stores and subsequent job losses.

Traditional roles in the publishing and music industries have also faced significant disruption due to digitization and the rise of online content platforms.

The Next Revolution

Are we at the beginning of the next revolution? Time will tell, but it looks like it. Some doomsayers may say that this will be the last for humanity. I do not think so. This is not something new. History shows how technology brought about major transformations to economies and job markets. Are you and your business prepared for the next transformation? Will you transform with it, or become obsolete?

In part two, we will explore the implications and challenges of AI as well as the opportunities it presents.


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