Earlier this year PBS and the New York Times ran stories on the impact of outsourcing human labor to technology. Opinions are mixed. Some experts predict a future where people, unburdened of tedious physical labor, will be able to pursue more intellectually-enriching pursuits and countless recreational activities. Others see a future filled with huge swaths of unemployed laborers.
In the mid-20th century, futurists were optimistic about the trend. For instance, in a 1967 TV broadcast Walter Cronkite said, “Technology is opening a new world of leisure time. One government report projects that by the year 2000, the United States will have a 30-hour work week and month-long vacations as the rule.”
That didn’t work out, and recent forecasts are not so upbeat. The Associated Press asserts that millions of middle-class jobs have been “obliterated by technology.” Oxford researchers project that 45% of US jobs are vulnerable to computerization. These dystopian predictions are not new, however, and they have been revisited in a revival of William Merchant’s 1955 play, The Desk Set.