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Structural Unemployment: How Robots Can Take and Make Jobs
Dustin Ashley   Apr 3, 2013   Ethical Technology  

One of the most significant issues society is facing is structural unemployment. Here, I will go into depth into what causes structural unemployment and how robots are a major cause of structural unemployment. Then, I proceed with a possible solution to this problem and the theoretical future of where this solution could lead to. Also, I explain how this could also lead to another theoretical future where unemployment could, at its worst, lead to global destitution.


At this moment, one of the largest reasons for the mass amount of structural unemployment going on is due to technological advancement. Many occupations that require little training are being replaced by automation and robotics. Jobs, such as assembly line workers, bank tellers, and telephone operators, are replacing humans with robots that perform the required tasks at a cheaper and more efficient rate. This is causing stagnation within the job market as it is barely helping to improve the unemployment rate. With this in mind, there are ways for us to improve the unemployment rate while implementing robots in menial jobs. This could lead us to eventually no longer need humans for manual labor and add more focus to more complex or creative occupations, such as engineers, architects, and doctors. This labor shift has the potential to accelerate societies to progress even further. Or, this could lead society into a downward spiral towards total unemployment.

Structural Unemployment and Its Causes

One of the most troubling problems each nation is suffering from is structural unemployment. This can be caused by a variety of issues from the outsourcing of jobs or the replacement of human workers to automatons. Outsourcing is one issue that is caused when companies choose to have their good manufactured in other countries where the workers accept extremely low salaries. As this is good for the companies and increases profit, their home country suffers because of it. For example, a factory might lay off their entire workforce and all jobs will be given to a branch in a developing nation where they will accept any payment offered. All the workers from the initial factory will become unemployed. Another cause of structural unemployment is failing companies and “sick industries”. When a company fails or an entire industry is under distress, this can cause mass unemployment for those who work for either. It is because of these factors and several more that the current unemployment rate in the United States is 7.7%.

How Emerging Technologies Are Causing Structural Unemployment

Since the latter half of the 18th century, machinery has been implemented in the workforce to assist with the manufacturing process. Although, with the advent of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), workers have begun to be completely taken out of the manufacturing process and replaced by more efficient automation. By removing workers and decreasing required salaries, this creates more profit for the company while the unskilled workers are left without a job. Eventually, this will continue until all workers are replaced by advanced automatons that can work without the need for repair or resting periods. This trend will continue even further with the emergence of 3-D printing, where the entire manufacturing process can be done at home.

Occupation Shift and How It can Solve Structural Unemployment

One positive aspect of worker replacement is the creation of technical jobs. As machines become more advanced and more complicated, there will be a greater need for people that can design, program, and repair the machines. This will create a higher demand for engineers, programmers, and technicians that are trained to perform the tasks required to maintain the cycle of machine creation and machine replacement. This demand can be satisfied by encouraging previously employed workers to seek out a higher education and return to work with a higher salary and a safer job. This can lead to a decrease in unemployment and a higher life expectancy for workers. This is because of the fact that the hazardous occupations, such as foundry workers, coal miners, and mill workers, are replaced by machines and the workers are given a job where they do not need to leave a desk. To ensure the success of this and the cooperation of the companies, a stipend or compensation can be awarded to the companies that agree to create a program to educate former workers and grant them a better job.

A Hypothetical Future After the Occupation Shift

If this occupation shift occurs, almost all manual labor jobs will be replaced by technical jobs and the manual labor workforce will be replaced with advanced automatons. With all humans working in technical occupations and machines working manufacturing their creations, this will accelerate society’s technological progress and will lead to more complex machines and technologies. Eventually, the technical jobs will be replaced by even more advanced machinery that can design and repair manufacturing automatons. This will cause the need for a basic income guarantee that ensures that members of society will be given enough money to live comfortably and allow those who wish to pursue even more advanced subjects. With the constant progress that we accomplish, this will lead society to a point where all manual actions will be done by machines. Sometime during this time period, we will forget how to perform the simplest tasks, such as arithmetic and operating a computer. It is when an individual or a group of individuals will rediscover how to perform these tasks and it will begin a trend that will begin another revolution within society. This “The Feeling of Power effect” will only occur if and only if we become advanced enough to forget the simplest subjects.

A Hypothetical Future If the Occupation Shift Doesn’t Occur

With this in mind, there is the possibility that none of this will occur. Without the occupation shift and if the unemployment rate continues to increase, the possibility of a jobless society will become a harsh reality. The manufacturing process will become fully automated and all workers will become unemployed and, in a worst case scenario, destitute. If this worst case scenario persists, there will be a surplus of goods and a constant rate of destitution. This will cause an eventual global depression and perhaps a new Dark Age. Even with the intervention of government aid in the form of a basic income guarantee, this will only grant a small solution to a significant problem. Without the occupation shift, unemployment will continue to increase and will cause stagnation within the economy.


Even though the replacement of workers to automatons is a significant contributor to structural unemployment, it provides a way for society to advance further or a way for society to fall and decay. This is a major challenge for society to overcome but it is far from impossible. With the support of companies and societies’ governments, this issue can be eliminated and thus lead us to a new renaissance.

Dustin Ashley is majoring in Engineering and working towards a PhD in physics and a PhD in both electrical and mechanical engineering. He spends most of his free time writing for different transhumanist groups, writing programs in C and Java, and reading William Gibson.


Another huge (relative to the remaining jobs) sector of the economy is those jobs where being human is seen as inherently valuable to the profession, such as nursing, sex work, entertainment, judicial, etc.

“With all humans working in technical occupations”

A few American states recently flirted with mandatory Algebra instruction. The results weren’t pretty - large scale repeated failure, rises in dropout rates. We actually have a pretty good of what percentage of the population is innately talented enough to work in technical occupations, and it’s considerably less than one hundred.

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