Printed: 2019-05-25

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

IEET Link:

Ethical Problems From Technology Efficiency

James Felton Keith

Ethical Technology

April 09, 2011

We’re trending towards a day where it will be impossible to create jobs in the traditional sense, and the taunting question of our time will be: How do we value human lives without livelihoods?

In both modern political rhetoric and science fiction, we humans—born of mostly-natural births and dying of mostly natural causes—could be perceived to be most terrified of the ethical dilemmas that future technologies pose, whether from a bio, nano, computer, or synthetic intelligence standpoint. Based on the popular culture that heckles our fears through horror and sci-fi films, coupled with the eye-catching, jaw-dropping news of the day, we rarely consider that the lowest hanging fruit may be the most poisonously disruptive to the lifestyles we so desperately try to conserve in our individual and institutional pursuits.

During the past decade, the technologically astute portion of humankind has been experiencing a trending set of recessions/depression exploiting the systemic risks in our PEST (Political, Economic, Social, and Technological) interactions. We all remember too well the peak in 2008 when our once-thought-robust mode of financing ideas collapsed so abruptly. While we’ve made strides to identify the culprit of depression through economic and sociocultural analysis, examining either the encouraged rational self-interest of the masses or the omnipresent mercantilistic manner in which we identify all resources as scarce, we’ve failed to factor in the political implications of our technological prowess.
Information Technology is the scariest genre of technological horror, and there is nothing sci-fi about it. A transformation has taken place before our eyes over the past sixty years that has rendered both blue-collar and white-collar workers of the 21st century relatively obsolete and clinging to little value. In the real world of right-now, engineers of sorts are charged with error-proofing on many levels. This set of methodological technologies first came to prominence in the middle of the 20th century to provide structured root-causing capability to product building companies.

Shigeo Shingo initiated Poka-yoke (ポカヨケ) at Toyota Company. His founding principles spawned an exponential growth in how humans streamline organizational efforts, further giving way to lean manufacturing and eventually to Six Sigma.

During the last four decades of the 20th century, we saw the population to employment ratio decrease dramatically in the United States’ product industries. Almost paralleled to product efficiency, the digital information industry was burgeoning and creating its own level of efficiencies to manage services and people, completing the cycle of Poka-yoke, where everything could eventually be quantified and compared for quality.

Strategies like IT service management and infrastructure library are the cornerstone of a diminishing workforce. Error-proofing ultimately eliminates redundancies and ineffective practices in human interaction (business), further depleting job growth.

1970’s US Population Growth: 30,811,000
1970’s US Employment Growth: 21,224,000 = 68.88%

1980’s US Population Growth: 20,865,000
1980’s US Employment Growth: 17,685,000 = 84.76%

1990’s US Population Growth: 21,667,000
1990’s US Employment Growth: 16,998,000 = 78.45%

2000’s US Population Growth: 26,254,000
2000’s US Employment Growth: 5,137,000 = 19.57%
(to Mar. 2009)

Per the statistics above, gathered from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the line graph represented below, the growth of these error-proofing technological resources (Tn) would theoretically trend human resources (Hn) to zero. The ethical, political, and social implications of this reality are that humankind will lose its ability to allocate value to human lives without livelihoods.


The questions should be posed: How will people exist without the work that defined their parent’s social and political identities? What kinds of equality should they be fighting for?

James Felton Keith is an award winning engineer economist and published author. He is Founder of the Personal Data Project, Co-Founder of the IBM Watson backed FinTech (financial technology) firm Accrue Inc., and Keith Institute. He specializes in the ethnography of technology and economic inclusion. Formerly CEO of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce and a Mayoral Technology Appointee in Detroit, JFK currently contributes as board and patron member to OUT in STEM, OUT & Equal, Lifeboat Foundation, Apollo Theater, The Guggenheim, and IBM Global Entrepreneurs to name a few.


Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
IEET, 35 Harbor Point Blvd, #404, Boston, MA 02125-3242 USA
phone: 860-428-1837