Posted on

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Contradictions

DR FRANCES CHANDLER, [email protected]

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Contradictions

Social Share

I’M WORRIED ABOUT Barbados’ economic future. Very worried. But I’m equally worried about its social development. Two recent news items really brought this home to me: “Technology and the Future of Employment” and “Ditch Gadgets For Day of Peace, Love.”

We’re continually told that we’re an ageing society in danger of not having enough young people to pay National Insurance contributions to support pensions for the increasing number of retirees.

Minister of Education Ronald Jones has said more than once that Barbadians need to have more children.

But isn’t there a contradiction here? What’s the point of encouraging people to have more children when we’re hearing that “soon, the Barbadian workplace will have to contend with a new wave of technological innovation.

This time, it relates to the challenge of automation where robots are gradually taking over various functions related to the production of goods and services that were previously performed by humans”; and “robots are increasingly shoving aside their human counterparts”.

According to Wired, an American print and online magazine, one multitasker bot, from Momentum Machines, can make (and flip) a gourmet hamburger in ten seconds and could soon replace an entire McDonald’s crew. Of course we’ve also heard of driverless cars, although I wonder about allocation of liability in an accident involving one of these.

No doubt we’ll hear that these technologies create a different kind of employment opportunity – like coding and programming. We might say we’ll need humans to repair robots, but apparently not. They can repair themselves.

According to Wired, “a manufacturing device from Universal Robots doesn’t just solder, paint, screw, glue and grasp – it builds new parts for itself on the fly when they wear out or bust”.

This has been described as a “marvellous new world”. But is it really so marvellous? It can’t be denied that technology has played a huge role in the development of almost all sectors, but anything can be taken too far. Furthermore, we’re seeing the downsides of technology– misuse of social media, cybercrime and the like on a daily basis.

Of course Barbados feels it must play an increasingly large part in this “globalised world” complete with all the negatives it brings with it. This “handing over your destiny” to those beyond your shores has, I firmly believe, led to Brexit for the British and the infliction of Donald Trump on the Americans.

We’ve been warned of the magnitude of the challenge of adjustment facing Barbados as a result of this sweeping change taking place on a global level. Do we really want that for Barbados? An impersonal environment with little human interaction?

We badly need an increase in productivity and an improved work ethic. But this doesn’t mean treating employees like robots and disregarding the need for work/life balance. We repeatedly hear it said that the objective of a business is to make a profit for its shareholders. But this shouldn’t mean “and to hell with the rest of you – employees and customers alike”. This greed is overcoming our society and it doesn’t augur well for our future.

As I said before, poor attitude is a problem here in Barbados. I noted that we can only change this by starting “at the cradle”. The 1865 William Ross Wallace poem says: “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”. He was referring to women. But if women are so pressured at work that they can no longer perform this function, how can we expect our society to improve?

If mothers constantly return home late, exhausted from a stressful day at the office, how can they be expected to give the necessary attention to their young families, to guide them with their studies and so on? The result is that children are often left to their own devices and are led astray by the same technology that’s increasingly being thrust upon us.

One thing is certain. Robots, no matter how life-like they appear, have no soul, no spirit and are incapable of love. They can’t put an arm around you and comfort you in times of distress.

So I agree with Sean Fields in his letter to the Editor: “Let’s establish a no-technologyday every week in our homes . . . when family sits together . . . in fellowship with love for each other and for their fellow man.”

• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator. Email: [email protected]