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Economic issues of emerging technologies

such as access, deskilling, job loss, misuse and sustainability

 

 

Economic issues involving emerging technologies, such as access, deskilling, job loss, misuse and sustainability

Note, this KK is limited to economic issues rather than social or psychological issues (except where they make or cost money)

Access

Access to new techologies is never free. And these days, it is becoming increasingly difficult to cope in society without always-on, high-speed mobile communication services.

Those without the finances, willingness or ability to embrace and pay for current technologies are increasingly finding themselves outcast or disadvantaged by society.

e.g.

  • students cannot access online educational resources to help them prepare for a profitable career.
  • many companies now charge extra for customers to receive printed bills or account statements.
  • physically visiting a bank to pay bills or withdraw cash during banking hours can be inconvenient.
  • some discounts are only available for online purchases.
  • without an email address, people cannot receive important and urgent news and information.
  • without social media, people can be isolated from their peers.
  • luxuries such as streaming media are unavailable.
  • using a minimal "Pay as you go" mobile phone service costs a lot for each SMS and every minute spent making phone calls.
  • they are unaware of and cannot take advantage of special offers or sales advertised online.
  • they cannot conveniently compare prices across multiple vendors without a lot of travelling or phoning.
  • they cannot benefit from cost-cutting tips available online. e.g. they will spend money on expensive cleaning products that could easily have been made at home with nothing more than vinegar and water.
  • they must invest in real cats to enjoy their visual antics.

And dogs, too, I suppose.

Users usually pay either directly (purchase price, monthly service or subscription fees) or indirectly (extra costs of purchases due to online advertising etc).

Even if the government pays for new technological infrastructure (e.g. tax office computer upgrades), the users will contribute to it through their taxes.

'Early-adopters' - those who eagerly start using new technologies - tend to pay far more than those who take up mature technolgies. e.g. in 1982 a Motorola DynaTAC mobile phone cost $4,000. In 2022, an average Motorola phone costs $300. Source. In 2008, users paid about $28 for every Megabit per second of download speed. In 2020 it was $0.64c... A 98% decrease. Source.

During those 20 years, the $300 billion dollars spent in the US on cabling, satellites, data centres, servers and pizza for programmers has been paid by its business, home and mobile users.

But entire new industries have arisen on the back of new technologies: look at Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Stan, etc which can only exist with high-speed data streaming communications.

And guess how the richest people in the world - Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page. Mark Zuckerberg etc - earned their money. It wasn't from selling shovels.

The growth of new technologies also allows the development of subsidiary tech. For example, the advent of electricity led to the invention and manufacture of every electronic tool you can imagine. The internet has spawned entirely new shopping, gaming, information, gambling, communication, data storage and entertainment industries. Online advertising has led to the development of ad blockers. Malware has inspired antivirus software. An avalanche of new job categories has resulted from a single emergent technology.

But new technologies have also made the poor poorer, entertained and educated the middle classes, and enriched the techlords - and the differences between them seem to be increasing daily. The Digital Divide is real, and growing.

Deskilling

Definition:

  • reduce the level of skill required to carry out (a job). - "advances in technology had deskilled numerous working-class jobs"
  • make the skills of (a worker) obsolete - "workers are being deskilled all the time"

Examples - a coffee machine replaces a skilled barista. A Rumba replaces a human cleaner pushing a vacuum cleaner around.

If a job is deskilled with emerging technologies, its human employee may suddenly become redundant and be fired - resulting in a negative economic outcome for the employee. Rarely would such a person be reassigned to other tasks.

e.g. Lawks-a-mercy, Jacob! When was the last time old Cedric shoed one of our stage coach horses? I do declare we must discontinue the employment of dear Cedric. Hang on. I have an email. Apparently we don't have any horses. We use drones. Jacob? What else have you not been telling me? Jacob?

Careers consigned to the crap can include (and my great old age can attest to personal experience of many of these):

  • farriers - who shoe horses
  • switchboard operators - who directed phone calls to and from a company
  • street sweepers - replaced by noisy trucks with big rotating brushes
  • TV repair people - when was the last time an electronic device was repaired instead of being replaced?
  • milk men - who delivered milk to houses, sometimes using a horse-drawn carriage - even in the 1960s!
  • ditch diggers - replaced by back hoes. No jokes please.
  • lift operators - yes. They stood in lifts and took people from floor to floor because it was a skilled operation.
  • knocker-uppers - before the invention of alarm clocks, hired women used long poles to tap customers' bedroom windows in 19th century London to wake them up to go to work. Before the industrial revolution concepts such as "working hours" was unknown.
  • Shorthand stenographer - a person (usually a woman) who would take dictation (usually in shorthand) and then type the contents of their boss' speech.
  • Sluggard waker - an 18th-century job to watch the congregation during a church service and tap anyone who appeared to be falling asleep sharply on the head.
  • Telegraphist - an operator who used a telegraph key to send messages along a communications network using morse code.
  • Lamp lighter - a person who lit gas lights along the streets before electric lighting was developed.
  • writers of VCE Technology theory web pages.

Technology introduces the need for new careers and types of workers, e.g. programmers, chip designers. But it also replaces the need for humans to perform some occupations, e.g. lift operators. And makes some occupations redundant, e.g. farriers.

Whenever a job can be automated, it will be. Prior experts in that job suddenly have no special skills to sell and they lose income. Automation costs money, which the consumer usually pays for.

Jobs that were previously tedious (e.g. vacuum cleaners vs sweeping floors) , time-consuming (nail guns vs hammers), dangerous (tree-felling robots vs lumberjacks) or reliant on hard-won skill sets (e.g. Wordpress vs webmasters using HTML, CSS, Javascript) can now be accomplished with money, instead of training, talent or skill.

The economic knock-on effects of automation and de-skilling are huge:

  • To get a job in this automated world requires years more education to learn a skill that has not (yet) been automated. This means that young people spend twice as long in school instead of entering the workforce.
  • Parents must keep working longer to support their dependent student children into early adulthood.
  • Governments spend more money on unemployment benefits for young people who would - years before - have been gainfully employed digging ditches or operating lifts, but who now cannot find work because they have no skills to sell. Such dole payments mean taxes for those who are employed.
  • New technologies mean new job categories and career paths.
  • Automation can greatly reduce the cost of activities that were once expensive due to their need for labourers, e.g. computerised tractors use GPS to plant and harvest crops, replacing entire crews of farmhands.

Job loss

As mentioned above, the massive increase of communication and other technologies has had many knock-on economic effects.

For example, many new jobs have been created in programming, internet support, equipment manufacture, cable installation etc.

And many jobs have been lost as they were made obsolete - when did you last see a job vacancy for a person to repair fax machines?

Job loss is sad, but it become tragic when the need for one's job becomes obsolete.

Take the occupation of type setter.

Between 1440 and 1970, any printed book had each of its letters put in place - one by one - by hand. Type setters took a lump of metal with a letter engraved into it, and set it in place to form a word, a sentence, a page. Then ink would be spread over the raised parts of the metal letters and pressed against paper to form a printed page. These guys had to read upside down and in reverse to create a perfect page that would be printed in thousands of copies. Its practitioners were experts - highly skilled, respected and irreplaceable.

Until 1970.

Then computer-based typography arrived. It was faster, cheaper, more accurate, more flexible, sexier. Type setters were on the streets looking for work - but their entire careers were now irrelevant.

Technology creates some new job classes. It makes some job classes redundant, and diminishes the importance of humans in many more.

Some jobs are now considered "human-only", but how long will it take for technology to replace teachers, actors, doctors and even hungry puppies?

Misuse

Accidental or deliberate misuse of emerging technologies can have extensive economic effects.

Accidental misuse

The main cause of data loss is not deliberate hacking - it's human error. An undertrained or inattentive idiot can do more damage in one minute than a hacker can in a week.

Examples of expensive accidental misuse include:

  • deleting the wrong files
  • failing to properly back up data
  • knocking coffee onto a file server
  • clicking on suspicious email attachments
  • believing that the phone call really is from the Microsoft Help Desk who need remote access to fix a problem.
  • letting unauthorised people have access to workstations or server rooms
  • unplugging critical equipment
  • fiddling ignorantly with key system settings, or attempting other risky actions they were not trained for
  • losing portable data storage devices that contain valuable data
  • using weak passwords, or reusing passwords for different accounts
  • not recognising or reporting symptoms of system problems (e.g. "But I didn't know that computers shouldn't have smoke coming out of them.")
  • turning off computers at the power switch without shutting them down first

Thorough training of technology users is vital to protect valuable data.

Deliberate misuse

- Hackers (aka crackers) are the obvious people in the "deliberate misuse" category. Their motives are malicious (unlike those of white-hat / ethical hackers) and their motive is usually economic gain.

Considerable amounts of money is spent annually on software, hardware, consultants, and training to protect home and business systems against deliberate misuse. And while expensive, the failure to effectively protect data is vastly more costly.

Hackers rarely have the single aim of doing damage or destroying data, but revenge attacks have occurred, especially for political reasons.

But in their attempts to get what they want, they will not be worried about the damage they do in the process. Systems can be damaged beyond recovery by careless or botched hacking attempts.

And whether the damage was deliberate or not, severe data loss can be fatal to the victim organisation.

According to one source

  • 94 percent of companies that experience severe data loss do not recover
  • 51 percent of these companies close within two years of the data loss
  • 43 percent of these companies do not reopen again
  • 70 percent of small firms go out of business within a year of a large data loss incident

What hackers look for:

  • credentials - customer usernames & passwords to be used to break into their accounts, or to sell to other hackers. Such stolen login details are often used in brute-force attacks on other systems using credential stuffing: massive login attempts that rely on the fact that many people use the same usernames and passwords in many different places.
  • secrets - corporate or national spies may look for designs, blueprints, technical plans that they can steal from their competitors. Companies may also look for corporate financial records in the hope of outwitting their opposition in the marketplace, e.g. underbidding them in the competition for a lucrative government tender.
  • access to financial accounts - as simple as stealing someone's bank login and widthdrawing money from their online account.
  • credit card details - to make unauthorised purchases, or to sell to less-skilled criminals.
  • personal information - for the purposes of identity theft. Pretending to be someone else can let cybercriminals get personal loans, buy houses / cars, get passports etc.

Another common misuse of technology comes through malware which aims to steal many of the items listed above, but also to:

  • install ransomware to extort payment from the victim
  • hijack victims' computers for cryptomining or participation in DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks
  • send out massive amounts of spam and/or phishing exploits through the victim's email account
  • hijack the victim's web browser to serve targetted ads
  • plant trojans to allow backdoor access to the victim's computer

Again, defence against deliberate misuse of technology is expensive and tedious, but the failure to defend oneself will - in the end - be far far more expensive.

 

- Disgruntled employees - those with a grudge against their employers - can do exceptional amounts of serious damage to information systems because they have privileged access and motivation.

This explains why employees who are fired will be accompanied to their desks by security personnel to collect their personal belongings.

It is also why people who are fired have their network access revoked before they are told of their fate.

Audit trails and event logs that continuously record all network transactions are valuable when tracking down misbehaviour and misuse of data.
A more controversial method is keystroke recording to build a record of every action a user takes.

Access control limits what functions can be performed by different people. e.g. a database manager will be given privileges to change the database's programming, but a lowly user will be restricted to data entry and not be allowed to delete data.
Similarly, swipe cards at doorways can limit where and when certain employees are able to move in an organisation.

Such access controls can also be limited by time, so an employee is able to use a door or a program, or log into the network only during work hours.

Video surveillance is useful to monitor staff members' access to sensitive work areas, such as server rooms.

2022-04-04 @ 11:09

Next:

Sustainability

Nearly all emerging technologies require:

  • electricity - which is often generated with polluting fossil fuel power stations, or risky nuclear power plants
  • plastic - an oil-based product which is not biodegradable and is increasingly difficult to dispose of safely
  • metals (e.g. lithium, copper) which have finite supplies
  • rare earth elements (e.g. gold for electrical contacts) which are hard to find, and costly
  • disposal at end-of-life
  • replacement of toxic batteries, and disposal of them

Electricity

Bitcoin mining is particularly relevant to the question of electricity usage. One bitcoin transaction consumes over 1000 kilowatt hours of electricity - enough to power a typical house for 6 weeks.

The massive quantities of graphical processor units (GPUs) used in bitcoin mines has driven up the price of GPUs for all other users.

Such mines also generate huge amounts of heat that require yet more electricity for ventilation fans and airconditioning - which push hot air into the environment and hasten global climate change.

Nuclear power plants are relatively safe in operation, but the safe disposal of their nuclear waste remains an ongoing problem since there is no safe place on Earth to store spent radioactive fuel rods.

Plastic

Plastics require petroleum, which means potential environmental damage and increased fuel costs as oil reserves are depleted.

End-of-life plastics do not degrade and remain a toxic danger to the environment and wildlife. Until recently, plastics were shipped overseas and dumped in poor nations who could not properly dispose of the waste either. Recent international restrictions on the disposal of plastics will inevitably increase the costs of plastics and the technologies that rely on them.

Metals

The universe has a limited supply of elements such as iron, copper, aluminium and lithium and we can't count on a nearby supernova to deliver more to Earth as we start to run out of our allotted supply. As metals become harder to find and more expensive to mine, their prices will only rise.

Rare Earth Elements

Ironically, many of these elements (such as neodymium for super-powerful magnets) are not particularly rare: some are actually more common than copper. But they have many applications in electronic components, lasers, glass and industrial processes. Some are radioactive, many are toxic to life, and they will form poisonous piles of waste or soak into groundwater if they are not recycled. Their effects on children's intellectual development is especially worrying.

China has estimated that carelesss mining of elements in one province alone will cost $5.5 billion to clean up.

Disposal

In 2022, most unwanted electronics are dumped into landfill along with dead batteries filled with mercury, alkaline, cadmium, lithium and lead.

And, as you probably know, many devices are discarded in perfect working order just because they're no longer fashionable and impressive.

To our descendents a few years from now, such casual recklessness will sound as sensible as our ancestors' habit of urinating into fireplaces and emptying chamber pots into the street sounds to us.

"A new [2020] United Nations report has revealed the astonishing waste generated by our electronics. Last year, the world dumped over 53 million tonnes of e-waste with only a tiny fraction ending up recycled. According to the analysts, the unrecycled waste represents a huge economic loss, with US$10 billion in precious metals hidden in the mountains of trash. " Source.

E-waste video on Youtube. Well worth a look.

 


In short, emerging technologies have some benefits, but they also have potentially disastrous economic, environmental, social and health implications for the whole planet. And, in the end, who will pay for it all? You, the consumer and citizen.


Contact Mark Kelly

 

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This page was created on 2022-04-04 @ 11:13
Last modified on Thursday 7 April, 2022 9:59