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Construction workers threatened by high-tech

Dave Ransom  |  Issue: July 2017

“There is something wrong with our system” — Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

They work with their hands as well as their brains, skilled workers in the construction trades, proud of what they build and their place in society — carpenters, electricians, ironworkers, laborers, plasterers, plumbers, pipefitters.

Seven million are at work in the U.S. today, with many of them immigrants or the sons and daughters of immigrants.

But when a robotic arm “prints” a house, there’s no one there laying bricks or framing walls, no one laying down flooring or putting up drywall, not even carpenters building forms for the concrete.

As in so many industries, “delegating all the hard work to smart machines” means the loss of skilled jobs. Not just for awhile — forever.

It’s a revolution, a real one. And the people on top of it are thoroughly aware of its “disruptive” effect on the social fabric.

“When our parents graduated, a sense of purpose reliably came from your job, your church, your community,” Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, 33, told graduating Harvard seniors in his commencement address in May.

“But today, technology and automation are eliminating many jobs,” he said. The sense of community is declining and “a lot people are feeling disconnected and depressed and are trying to fill a void in their lives.”

Those people are not at fault, said Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook in his dorm room and quit Harvard before graduating. “There is something wrong with our system, when I can leave here and make billions of dollars in 10 years, while millions of students can’t afford to pay off their loans.”

The challenge “is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose,” he explained, And to accomplish that, “we should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things.”

That would mean a redistribution of wealth. “People like me should pay for it.”

What Zuckerberg didn’t explain was how this revolution, too, would be accomplished — a social revolution built on top of the technological revolution

That, too, is our challenge — a reorganization of society so that all benefit from the abundance that the tech revolution makes possible.

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