By Song Jae-hyun
A few months ago, residents of an apartment complex in Gangnam-gu decided to replace all 283 of their security guards with automatic doors to reduce costs. The cost of installing the new security system only being a fraction of the annual payroll was the reason. Some people online have been showing sympathy for the now jobless seniors with others hotly debating its morality.
Whether it's right or wrong, technology replacing human workers is a worldwide trend. McDonald's, the fast-food company, announced plans to replace their cashiers with touch-screen self-serve stations after the rise in the minimum wage. Various transport and distribution companies like Amazon and Uber are considering self-driving vehicles and drones. The appeal of tireless workers at a cheaper cost has accelerated the pace of automation.
The effect of automation does not stop at blue-collar jobs. Computers are diagnosing diseases at a 90 percent accuracy rate. Programs powered by artificial intelligence are generating articles that resemble human-written ones. According to Stephen Hawking, the renowned British physicist and futurist, technology will "decimate" the need for nearly all middle-class jobs. Only care services workers, people working in fields that require high creativity and managerial positions will be safe from the coming wave of unemployment.
During the industrial revolution, another instance of machinery replacing human labor, new technology created new jobs and experts say it will be the same this time. There will be more demand for engineers, programmers and other jobs related to automation. According to Statistics Korea, however, 34.3 percent of Korea's workforce are blue-collar, the first jobs that will disappear.
How many of the working class will be able to transition to become robotics engineers and computer coders? Only a 5 percent increase in unemployment was a cause for alarm in the past. When this new revolution phases out over a third of the total workforce, and possibly a larger share of white-collar jobs, the consequences will be dire.
Many experts have come up with solutions to the automation problem, most notably the universal basic income. This system will allow the citizens to live without the need for a wage as the government will be providing them with the necessary funds. Machines will produce the goods, and the people will be able to buy them.
While this may seem like a perfect answer, there may be complications. For this to work, society will need to rethink its economic system as a whole, when the vast majority of its population no longer produces any value.
Another issue that universal income raises is whether people can live happily without the sense of purpose that work provides. There has been a correlation between the length of unemployment and the chance for diagnosis of depression. When people know that they have become obsolete by pieces of wire and metal, knowing that they will never be able to work, will they be able to live satisfying and fulfilling lives?
There is no denying that automation has its merits. The trend would not have started otherwise. However, the government and people need to acknowledge its devastating consequences and begin their search for an answer. Whether the next generations of citizens live in squalor in a dystopian society or find happiness free from financial burdens in a utopia depends on what happens next as the result of such efforts.
The writer is a senior majoring in English literature at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.