Will Automation Make The Cost Of Living Cheaper?

It could, but it's not as simple as more machines, less money.

What you need to know
  • How we use technology will affect how much we pay for things and how much we work
  • Re-skilling workers rather than preserving redundant roles will keep work relevant
  • We won't loose our jobs to robots, we'll just loose parts of them

Change at the hands of technology is nothing new, but picturing society being run by robots doesn't get any less scary.

While robots aren't likely to take over any time soon, disruptive technology, like artificial intelligence, is changing the way we work.  By speeding up production and taking mundane tasks from humans and giving them to machines, we could reduce the cost of living. 

“But that in itself isn’t necessarily a goal," Director of the Centre for Future Work Dr Jim Stanford told ten daily. 

"You have to have a job and you have to have an income before you can take advantage of lower prices.”

What is the price of reducing the cost of living? Image : Getty Images

Managing how society adapts new technologies so workers are still working, while possibly making life cheaper is at the core of the challenge we face.

Yes, things could get cheaper because they are made faster, but it's too soon to tell if the overall impact of new technologies will be positive or negative. 

"The positive side is that it would enhance our productivity so we could produce more stuff and better stuff . . . with less labour," Stanford said.

The negative side could see decision makers -- whoever they are in the future -- use technology to exacerbate inequality in work places, where tech is misused to improve profit while undermining the stability of work.

It all comes down to who makes the decisions and how.

“Technology is not a neutral, exogenous force. Technology really is the subtotal of human knowledge about how we can produce things . . . how technology is applied in a way relies on the interests and priorities of the people making the decision,” Stanford said.

Who will make the decisions and what will they decide? The possibilities are endless.  Image : Getty Images
Upping your skills the key to employment

There's plenty of talk about what is happening in the future of work, but right now workers are urged to learn new skills to ensure they remain relevant among automation.

“It's important that we don't necessarily protect the jobs that are almost certainly on the way out anyway, but we think about re-skilling and educating so that we ensure that there is an appropriate pathway for people,” Co-Founder of Horizon State Jamie Skella told ten daily .

“New jobs today are all born of the internet, and yes, the internet will destroy many jobs . . . but if we continue to create jobs as fast, or if not faster, than what we are losing them then we are going to end up in a net positive position.”

We can re-skill diligently but inevitably will we lose our jobs to robots anyway?

“No, and there have been several different sources that have thrown out very scary numbers . . . they are all wrong . . . what is happening is that many jobs are going to be significantly changed because of technology,” Stanford said.

More automation could mean fewer costs, but what about the workers replaced by machines? Image : Getty Images
Is a social security overhaul the answer?

In early April, Greens leader Richard Di Natale said the introduction of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) would help update Australia’s social security system in light of automation threatening job security.

The proposed annual sum of $23,000 would be sufficient for future Australians because the cost of living would reduce as automation increased.  

“We need a universal basic income. We need a UBI that ensures everyone has access to an adequate level of income, as well as access to universal social services, health, education and housing,” Di Natale told the National Press Club.

While Stanford said considering a UBI was important, he questioned where the money would come from.

“It begs the question, if we are all going to lose our jobs to a robot who is going to be making the income that pays for a UBI? A strong income support system requires people to be working and paying taxes for that," he said.

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Skella also said the idea of a UBI is important,  as parts of jobs, not entire jobs be made redundant as innovation progresses. 

"You are going to see ... developments [that] actually help us focus on things that we are innately good at as humans and take away from the menial mundane and sometimes dangerous elements of our work.”

People will be working alongside machines in the future, but it's too soon to tell what we'll be doing or if that makes the cost of living cheaper.

Finding a balance between cheaper lives, more automation and stable work is a challenge we face today that will impact the future.