woensdag 17 januari 2018


Translation of Dutch column:
Although we hear and see many signals that could indicate change, the existing system continues to maintain a principle that undermines stability by pollution, inequality, poverty and many other factors. The most important goal seems to be the increase of wealth for a select group of people. In a very rich country like The Netherlands with approx. 17 million inhabitants more than one million people live below poverty line.

Economists come and go announcing a new era, but there is more needed than a hype to achieve something. The question why we have so many problems already is avoided as much as possible. Well-being and a meaningful life are replaced by growth of economy with the well-known dark side. In recent years, some plans have been presented to authorities, but the pressure of rules, legislation and big corporations made it difficult for them to come out of their ‘comfort zone’. The 4th industrial revolution will push everything right to the edge. 

How could people be offered a meaningful life if they lose their job? In our country 1.2 million people are on the side-line despite economic prosperity (Union CNV). This is not reflected in the low official unemployment figures. This tendency is rising, with the enormous technical change at the horizon. The fear is that many will not be able to ‘overcome’ the battle of education. A fundamental question is also whether a process of ‘life time learning’ is a realistic option for many.Gradually we see more and more problems as to modern technology. 

Cost of robot-work versus human labor

Apart from loss of jobs there is a worldwide attention now as to the use of smartphones. There is an unfolding epidemic of addiction, short-sightedness and cognitive problems. From discussions with young people it appears that trying to meet the expectations from the outside world, is causing severe mental problems. Life has been moved to the little technical friend in your pocket. The pressure of the labour market and the ‘social environment in a box’ are killing. In 2016 we saw an increase of 50% as to burnout-employee cases (University Nyenrode) and an increasing number of people with suicidal thoughts. 

The expectation seems justified that without change of policy or legislation this tendency will continue. For citizens, it looks as if the government prefers silence as to this point instead of action. From all kind of dossiers as to various subjects such as actually gas extraction in the northern part of Holland, we see that citizens are not protected by The Hague and authorities will only act under pressure. The saying: ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’ is certainly applicable and a dangerous attitude with the coming technical tsunami.

For that reason, I have decided to combine efforts and to join an international initiative to gather scientists and other influencers worldwide trying to shape the world as to technology and innovation. We need regulation. The epicentre of this is in Dhaka – Bangladesh (Twitter: @DrZamanRokon) a country where the automation by robots will have enormous consequences. Many millions of people coming from agriculture have started to work in factories. Despite low wages their standard of living has been improved. Now that the cost of robot-work becomes even lower they will lose their jobs ultimately. 

They cannot go back to the former work, because of mechanisation that has taken place in the meantime also there. What can we do if smarter machines begin to replace more and more people? On the 13th of January, The Guardian describes the actual situation, saying that in India there are 600 million young people. In 2016 1,5 million people applied for 1,500 jobs at a state bank. There are numerous of other examples. There will be new jobs created by technology, although it is not completely clear what kind and who will be suitable for these. 

Will the masses be able to fulfil the obligations for this new era? It could be a misunderstanding to follow a ‘laissez-faire’ attitude, in which we’re at the mercy of the actual system. For that reason, we see more and more scientists and citizens aware of this dangerous situation uniting to exert pressure to get at least regulation. Moreover, the combination of technology and social capital might deliver some solutions. I will continue my voyage to a humane society.

Wim Verhoeven
Koffiekring Zaanstad