Fear of Change is Nothing New
“Automation is not our enemy. Our enemies are ignorance, indifference, and inertia. Automation can be the ally of our prosperity if we will just look ahead, if we will understand what is to come, and if we will set our course wisely after proper planning for the future”.
Words spoken by Lyndon B Johnson back in 1964 as part of his Remarks Upon Signing Bill Creating the National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress. Words that still have very direct relevance today.
The US took automation very seriously; that commission was established to guide America into a new age of opportunity and to address the widespread public concern and fears surrounding automation. When LBJ made those remarks the automation he was referring to was primarily in the machination of manufacturing and farming; the type of automation that took a lot of investment and a long lead time to put in place.
LBJ goes onto remark how we as humans will not be dispossessed by automation but how we will evolve to new roles and ways of working; “In all we do in this country, our objective first and last is to serve man and his greatness.”
Whilst our natural defensive response to great disruptive change hasn’t changed since the 1960’s some of the challenge presented by automation has. Today, as Robotic Process Automation and the subtle and pervasive development of AI continues, some things are becoming very clear and evident; the speed at which automation occurs is rapid, the investment required is far lower and the scale of the benefits in today’s connected world are far greater.
Those factors put far more pressure on organisations today to keep pace in the efficiency race or risk falling into the gap between those who have automated and those who haven’t – being a fast follower is rapidly becoming inadequate in todays market. That same pace and need for efficiency in turn puts pressure on our abilities to manage the organisational and people side of change – technology is only one part of the puzzle.
Here’s a full transcript of the presidents comments back in 1964 – powerful language which is shockingly relevant today…
Members of Congress, representatives and spokesmen for labor, captains of industry, business, ladies and gentlemen:
This office has many concerns. None receives more earnest attention or greater effort than the challenge of creating more jobs, creating better jobs for more people.
More Americans are working today than ever in history. Congress deserves the fullest share of credit. Members of both Houses, Members of both parties have rejected make-work and handout answers to unemployment.
First things have been put first to enlarge private payrolls–not public relief rolls.
The record is reassuring. The President and the Government is deeply grateful for the cooperation demonstrated between the leaders of labor and the leaders of business.
The disturbing trend of the 1950’s has been reversed. Unemployment is no longer growing 10 percent a year as it did from 1952 to 1960. Instead, unemployment is shrinking at an average annual rate of 6.2 percent since 1961. Unemployment is below the 5 percent level because, in the last 4 years, our economy has created more than 4 million new jobs.
One of the best pieces of statistical information that the President has received in his first 8 months in office is the assurance by one of our leading businessmen that if the tax bill passed he would, in the first year, employ 20,000 additional workers.
At a luncheon the other day in the White House, he leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I put on 22,000 as I promised.”
Since January 1961 we have created more new jobs in America than the total of the populations of nearly half the countries of the world. That is a remarkable and very reassuring record.
Our challenge now is to do even better this year, even better throughout this decade, even better throughout this century.
This legislation creating a National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress will help us meet our responsibility.
Technology is creating both new opportunities and new obligations for us – opportunity for greater productivity and progress – oligation to be sure that no workingman, no family must pay an unjust price for progress.
Automation is not our enemy. Our enemies are ignorance, indifference, and inertia. Automation can be the ally of our prosperity if we will just look ahead, if we will understand what is to come, and if we will set our course wisely after proper planning for the future.
That is the purpose of this commission. I hope and I expect that its work will benefit the workingman and benefit the businessman, and serve the interests of the farmer and the professionals and all of our people in America.
The techniques of automation are already permitting us to do many things that we simply could not do otherwise. Some of our largest industries, some of our largest employers would not exist and could not operate without automation, and some of those employers are here this morning.
We could not provide our great shield for the security of this country and the shield for the security of the free world if we did not have automation in the United States. If we understand it, if we plan for it, if we apply it well, automation will not be a job destroyer or a family displaced. Instead, it can remove dullness from the work of man and provide him with more than man has ever had before.
In all we do in this country, our objective first and last is to serve man and his greatness.
To those of you who are gathered around me this morning who contributed so much to bringing this bill to the stage that it is in today, I want to say thank you. I know that when the history of this country is written, you will be proud of the part you played in passing this act that will contribute so much to our Republic.
Note: The President spoke in midmorning in the Cabinet Room at the White House.
As enacted, the bill (H.R. 11611) is Public Law 88-444 (78 Stat. 462).
On November 14 the White House made public the names of 14 citizens appointed by the President to serve as members of the Commission, of which Dr. Howard R. Bowen, president of the University of Iowa, was nominated Chairman.
The release stated that the membership was broadly representative of business, labor, and the public, and that it included experts in economics, engineering, sociology, industrial relations, and law.
Citation: Lyndon B. Johnson: “Remarks Upon Signing Bill Creating the National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress.,” August 19, 1964. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=26449.