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How is the empowerment of work evolving from the industrial revolution to the present?

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

The arrival of new technologies and new means of production in the 1920s was a source of fear for some people. In fact, they feared that the said technology would make the work of humans anachronistic.

The rationalization and efficiency developed during this time illustrated the considerable increase in production through the simplification of tasks performed by workers. In addition, Henry Ford is known as one of the creators of ‘Welfare Capitalism’, an industrial method that would improve the standard of living for workers. For him, Welfare Capitalism was not an approach to improve the life of the middle class, or an act of charity, but rather “one of the best means of reducing costs ever put in place”. Increasing wages of employees would thus increase productivity, while offsetting the negative sides of the monotonous effect of the assembly process; workers could then be consumers and producers at the same time.

In 2020, the fear of being replaced by new technologies in the workplace is still present. Many of the trades that once depended on human manual labor are now in the grip of new technologies; such as Artificial Intelligence. Innovating new technological advancements has proven valuable for a number of reasons. They save a lot more time, make life at work easier, but also make data much more accessible all around the world. In addition, most of the professions lost over the last 20 years have been due in large part to the automation of production chains, as well as outsourcing to countries with low labor costs.

Finally, the coronavirus crisis has made our usual practices much more complicated for the past four months now. Thousands of companies around the globe have used artificial intelligence, using videoconferencing applications such as Zoom. We can therefore ask ourselves to what extent this crisis will affect our ways of working and producing goods. Are we headed towards a dematerialization, a reinforced automation of our modes of production?

Author: Rouguiatou Sow

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