David McWilliams: Great Disaster Looms as Technology Disrupts White Collar Workers
– Every era, every century, every generation has its massive technological disruption
– Taxi drivers being “disrupted” by technology of Uber
– History shows how “middle men” frequently made redundant
– Skill set of many professionals today can be replicated by machines and technology
– Technology may make lawyers, accountants, architects and doctors redundant
– We risk “cannabalising ourselves” with internet and emerging technologies
Looking out to sea at the huge winter waves crashing upon the Cape Town shore, it’s hard to imagine what the first local tribesman thought when he saw, in the distance, Vasco De Gama’s tiny Portuguese ship sail round the Cape of Good Hope, heading out towards the Indian Ocean in search of profit.
You wonder what went through the local’s mind? Could he have imagined the calamity that was soon to befall his people and most of the peoples of Africa?
Once the Portuguese had opened up the passage to India via the Atlantic, the old Silk Roads, the commercial superhighways of the medieval ages from China to Istanbul, were gradually downgraded in global commerce. Economically, the Earth shifted on its axis from Asia to the Atlantic. This was the great disruption.
It took a while, but the commercial earthquake triggered by the Portuguese heading around Africa in 1497 and sailing triumphantly into the port of Calcutta in India is impossible to understate. So much changed, from slavery to mass manufacturing, from the conversion of England’s peasants to proletarian workers and, more traumatically, the mass expropriation of native lands, stemmed from the commercial imperative to trade as much stuff as possible in as many countries as possible.
It was the beginning of European domination of the world.
In 1497, India was the richest, most commercially sophisticated economy in the world. As Sven Beckert explains in ‘Empire of Cotton’ (well worth a summer read), India’s main produce was cotton and it was one of the most sought after manufacturing products in the world. Cotton was fine, soft, fashionable and durable unlike the smelly, heavy wool that Europeans were used to wearing.