When it comes to new technologies – such as information technology, man-machine communication, bio-technologies and advanced robotics – Bicke said the effect they are having on the global market is a question “difficult to answer,” because while they exist and are growing, “they are not standardized enough” to knows exactly how they will develop or influence job creation in the future.
“It’s like at the beginning when you had these new machines for textile, or these new machines for typing, typewriters, they were not standardized. Each one was different and it took a number of decades until really new technology was kind of standardized (and) you know exactly what you have to learn,” he said, noting that “this is not the case today.”
Instead, people working in these new areas “are learning every day,” Bicke said, noting that the technological and digital revolution currently underway “is much deeper than probably anything we’ve known in the past,” so the questions are “much more difficult to answer.”
When it comes to opportunities for new technologies to shape the job market, Bicke said he sees the most progress in projects such as “highly technological satellites,” but noted that the field is rather specific.
More generally, he said new technologies are currently providing a number of opportunities in smaller-scale areas such as services that analyze and package data in quicker, more useful ways. Another area is in biology and the analysis of health data and new treatments, he said.
“These are two examples where lots of things are happening, more than we know,” he said, but noted that the people doing these things might not be as visible, because “they have a lot of work” and aren’t necessarily promoting their work on television.
However, one of the concerns about the promotion of new technologies is that these technologies may be taking jobs away from people.
Pope Francis himself expressed concern over this point in Laudato si', cautioning in paragraph 128 that the goal of new technology “should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity.”
“The orientation of the economy has favored a kind of technological progress in which the costs of production are reduced by laying off workers and replacing them with machines,” he said, noting that “to stop investing in people, in order to gain greater short-term financial gain, is bad business for society.”
While there are certainly instances in which this has happened, Bicke said that whether new technologies are actually taking jobs from people is “the great question” of the day, but the answer is still “not clear.”
“The studies are not conclusive whether the 'job fear' … is really something happening, or is it just imagination. It’s still difficult to understand,” he said.
What is clear, though, is an increased growth in the availability of both “highly qualified jobs” and “unqualified jobs,” whereas those in the middle seem to “lose their chances.”
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Bicke said the reason for this might be that the process is “more transformative,” meaning that rather than jobs disappearing, they are simply changing.
Addressing concerns, particularly in Europe, that migrants will take jobs from locals, Bicke said this “is nonsense. It doesn’t mean anything,” because job creation “is a complex thing.”
“It depends on the month, it depends on technology, it depends on innovation,” he said, explaining that the current difficulty in finding jobs could be boiled down to the “general cycle” of the economy, and the fact that “we are still in a low phase of the cycle.”
Unemployment, specifically among youth, was among the topics discussed at a Nov. 19 conference held by the Centesimus Annus Foundation titled “Work, Innovation and Investment: Can Precariousness be Faced?”
The theme will also be carried forward during another conference the foundation will hold in January, as well as during a larger conference taking place in May which will place a special emphasis on the role of new technologies.
Gathering experts on Catholic social doctrine as well as those in professional environments, the conferences are designed to build on each other and foster dialogue as to what effect “precariousness” and uncertainty have on the job market, on the economy, and on human psychology and anthropology.