The future of work is in doubt. All you have to do is check the unemployment figures. Well, you need to really check the unemployment figures because the government keeps changing the basis for its calculation. More smoke and mirrors from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If the total number of people who have given up looking for employment is considered, our current unemployment rate is somewhere around 15%. If the number of “undocumented workers” is considered, it’s probably more like 20%. At least that’s why guys like Trump are saying. Given that he has a lot of information we don’t, he’s probably right.
How we have done work in the past versus how we will do work in the future appear to be wildly different. In the past just getting daily rations of water would occupy a significant part of each day. Industrialized societies do not experience this. We have water delivered on tap anywhere people are. In the remote areas, we have well water delivered by electric pumps. So we take the availability of water for granted.
The key to water infrastructure is electricity. This makes sense because the primary means of accomplishing work is the electric motor. Based on the discovery of electromagnetism by Michael Faraday and the many man-years of effort in the development of rotating machinery by Gramme, Siemens, Edison and Tesla, we have water on tap everywhere today.
That’s not all. Remote pumping of water for agriculture has allowed farming to expand to any point where the electric grid can reach. Nowadays, that means pretty much everywhere. So farming and raising livestock can be located anywhere the land is suitable, wherever there is access for transportation of goods to be sold. And billions of people are fed and have water to drink.
Loss of electricity due to natural disasters means loss of drinking water. That’s why the electric power infrastructure in the US is so important. It is almost impossible to calculate the amount of work performed by electric motors. According to some sources, 60% of all electricity generated in the United States for industrial use is consumed by electric motors.
In the framework of long term social trends, if we have entered the “age of the semiconductor” how will the migration of technology affect how we do work in the coming generations? The myriad of changes is hard to comprehend. Electric motor technology is being “invaded” by dedicated microcontrollers with incredible performance that will make electric motors more efficient.
Efficiency by itself is not the only benefit. The evolution of the Smart Motor from companies like “Animatics” will have an increasing impact on the way machinery is designed and built and reducing cost as is the nature of semiconductor based technology. Smart robots like those from Universal Robots with high speed current sensing algorithms permit the robot to work safely in proximity to people without complex guarding systems that take up huge amounts of plant floor space and make robots cumbersome to use in the workplace. This new robot reduces cost significantly at the same time.
These trends are in their early stages. The opportunity to create new paradigms for machines that do work appear to be limitless. Let’s get out there and invent the future.