Humanity vs. Machinery: Automation in the Workplace
by Avxy on February 10, 2017 - 12:15am
In the past years, technology has developed tremendously. Slowly but surely we incorporated it in our everyday lives. From transportation to communication and even video games, everything is related to it. However, we often forget to look at all the ways it affects us. One big dilemma that arose during this era of technology is the incorporation of machines into the workplace. As technology progresses, more and more machines are used in factories. They greatly ease down the workers’ jobs, which can be helpful, but they also oftentimes replace what used to be jobs for workers. Though the role technology plays in creating new jobs cannot be ignored, it is still debatable whether it creates or destroys more jobs.
This problem can be analyzed from many different angles. If looking from a teleological point of view, or more precisely, a utilitarian one, it is hard to determine what is right. This framework aims to “bring the greatest happiness (or pleasure) to the greatest number” (Merrill, 7). The issue here is that we don’t know what would bring the greatest happiness. It really depends on individual situations, so this question cannot be tackled in a general manner. For example, if the workers at a certain factory had a huge amount of work to do, having machines to help them would remove weight from their shoulders and greatly benefit them. In that case, automation in their workplace would indeed bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number, so according to utilitarianism, it would be a right thing to do. On the other hand, if workers lose their jobs because of the new technologies, they could end up struggling with sustaining themselves or their families which can lead to a lot of stress. In this scenario, the biggest happiness would be to not install the machines.
Another way to analyze this dilemma is from a deontological angle. In deontology, the goodness or badness of an action itself is what determines if the action is right or wrong. Kant’s definition of a morally correct action goes as such: “Act only on that maxim which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (Kant). These machines in the workplaces are created and developed by engineers who studied and worked hard. Following Kant’s way of thinking, it would be wrong to tell those engineers to stop doing what they are good at, so the right thing to do would be to let them further develop modern technology and put the machines in use.
Deontology looks at automation of jobs in a very direct way, and the clear rules of it makes it much more appealing than utilitarianism. Kant says that humans are meant to put their talents to use, such that the world can keep progressing. If any problems arise, we humans can certainly deal with it by either adapting ourselves or fixing the problems. By no means should we ever restrict ourselves from the gifts we’ve been given at birth.
Kant, Immanuel. Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals. 1785
Merrill, John C. “Overview: Theoretical Foundations for Media Ethics.” Controversies in Media Ethics, 3rd Edition. New York: Routledge (2011): 3-32. Print.