The irony about thoise jobs "never coming back" is with modern production methods (including lean), is that the American worker is among the most productive in the world. Which translates to lower-priced products than what was produced by past generations. It is a shame that Americans can't stand to see their neighbors paid the same wage they make. Instead, we have deciced that Keebler Elves in low-cost countries should make things, which only enrich the few, so we can get a 10% discount.
Another silly attempt to bump up the ego of an industry. Yes, techonology changes alter the workplace but engineers don't make the financial and political decisions that result in job losses.
There is a lot of talk in the thread about skilled work, when in fact the major increase has beenin unskilled service jobs ('do you want fries with that?')
Instead of taking credit (or blame) for how the world is turning out, we should be discussing how technology could be used to create a better world. Should robots be paid less than a human? Why not pay them the same, then use that money to retrain or give paid leisure time to others, instead of letting the few running the major corporations keep tens of billions of $$ for their self agrandizement (and they have all been found to be at best avoiding tax in most countries, so they do owe us all anyway).
No mention of the economic side of things, of the real estate and stock market bubbles that affect our lives and force down the value of wages and income even more; money has been transferred from earned income of the masses to the unerned stock profit and speculation of the few, who are able to use their wealth to determine the financial returns of their own investments - when you have enough money, you can buy shares in broken companies and force up the price, then sell at a handy profit, as several Whitehouse staffers can attest.
Engineering is one small piece in the puzzle. Looking at Amazon, for example, its ROI is well below that of a retail high street outlet but its captial accumulation from investors has given it a disproportionate influence in retail. In some countries, Amazon staff are unionized, in others, Amazon agitates to break unions, we must follow the politics and economics as being of more significance than the engineering, the product is not autonomous and does not decide what it should be used for, that is still decided by humans (of varying degrees of ethical responsibility).
One way of measuring the course of human development is the progressive replacement of labor by capital.
The Industrial Revolution revolution in Britain is cited as the most vivible inflection point, but the process was going on much earlier.
In the 1100's, there was a wave of piety in Europe, and a spate of cathedral and monastery building. One account I read concerned a group of younger sons of French nobles who decided they had a vocation to become monks. But they didn't know how to go about it, so they wrote to Bernard of Clairvaux (St. Bernard to us) for advice.
Bernard was founder of the Cistercian order, who enphasized poverty and simplicity. Bernard sent an associate, Geoffrey of Tours, to instruct them on how to build a monastery and take up their vocation. The Cistercians had evolved standards and plans that specified where to site a monastery and how it shouild be laid out and contructed. Siting included "near a river", so water wheels could be employed. The wheels provided running water to kitchens and lavatories, and power that could be applied to looms and mills.
Application of water power allowed monasteries to not merely be self-sufficient, which was an assumption made when starting one, but also allowed them to produce a surplus that could be sold and generate revenue. That sort of revenue later became the basis for great monastic order fortunes.
The combination of the Internet and increasingly sophisticated robotics has simply accellerated the process, and whole classes of jobs have gone away. The technology does indeed create new jobs, but that doesn't help the displaced. By definition, the jobs will be new jobs, and require skill sets the displaced won't have and may simply be unable to acquire.
There was already a lot of unhappiness about jobs being outsourced and moving overseas. (Just ask what used to be the International Ladies Garment Worker's Union.) Work flows to where it can be done cheapest, and always has. Government intervention to stop it at best delays the inevitable
Back in the 40's and 50's, it was possible for low skilled/unskilled employees to get factory jobs in unionized industries and achieve a middle class standard of living. Those jobs went away and aren't coming back. They went away in the first place to achieve lower costs and consequently lower prices on what we bought. No one will pay what it would cost for products built that way to be made here at American wage scales. Manufacturing is returning, but as mentioned up thread, it's done by robotics, and the workers in the factory are robot programmers and techs to maintain the robots. Those manual laborers working on the assemply line are a ting of the past.
A question I ask when people complain about jobs going offshore is "How much more are you willing to pay for what you buy to insure it's made here? Because you will pay more." I tend not to get meaningful answers.
Buckminster Fuller talked decades ago about the need to abolish the notion of "making a living". As usual, Bucky was prescient. He foresaw a time when large numbers of people would be unable to make a living because they didn't know how to do anything someone else might pay to have done.
We are at a point now where 80% of what we need on a day to day basis can be produced by 20% of the work force. What do the other 80% do? The usual answer is "services", but the caveat is that services tend not to pay well.
We are also nearing a post-scarcity econmy, and have the wealth to provide for everyone whether they work or not. But the societal changes involved in accepting that the majority of the populace may not be able to work far a living as there is nothing they can do anyone else will pay for, and should get what they need to survive anyway is probably the greatest political challenge we have ever faced. The notion if making a living is too deeply embedded in your society and culture.
This discussion is not new. Indeed, when Jacquard devised automated methods of controlling a loom, many weavers may have been displaced, but the world went from average people being able to afford only 2 complete changes of clothing, to what we now have.
When I worked for Unimation in the late 1970's, we used robots to automate the spot welding of auto bodies. This work was extremely harsh, with heavy welding rigs, hot metal splash, the need to wear protective clothing, etc. In addition, because humans could not be expected to exactly replicate the same welds on every car, it was necessary to add "extra" spot welds in the weld schedule to assure the car was safe. The robots improved weld quality and repeatability. They also worked faster. As a result the throughput of the factory went from about 35 cars/hr to about 55-60 cars/hr. This increased throughput meant additional workers needed to hired in other areas that could not be as easily automated, such as the upholstery shop, or inspections etc.
I think that automation creates more commerce, which in turn creates more wealth, and more jobs.
As for the U.S., it helped us compete with lower wage countries. In the 70's it was Japan Inc. It is now other countries.
I just don't think it is reasonable to blame engineers for losing jobs.
Unfortunately, the ones who survive are all too often the ones that are prepared to trample on others to get the limited resources. These days, greed prevails. Greed is having far more than others, but you still want what others have. It is about power, power to control, power to hurt others. The 1%, or even the top 5% could double their financial contribution to society, and it wouldn't make the slightest difference to their lifestyle.
A banker, alocal brocklayer, and a minimum-wage immigrant sit at a table. There are 12 biscuits (cookies to 'mericans) on a plate. The banker grabs 11 of them, then tells the bricklayer "be quick or the immigrant will steal yours"
When I started using Linux, 18 years ago, I didn't know how much I didn't know. Now, I have a good idea how much I don't know, but I have lost interest in computers for their own sake anway. Now, they are just tools, and as long as I know enough to use them in a way that does what I otherwise require, I don't bother with the rest.
So how do we "break" those rules? As you hint, those rules stand if you look at Earth as a closed system. Solar harvests energy from outside that system. Humans leaving the planet expands this closed system to infinity. This expansion, practically unlimited energy and robots do technically render the economy redundant as the only unavoidable costs are raw materials (as long as limited) and human work.
Beyond that we can also better exploit the existing resources.Wind, geothermal and others harvest energy from underexploited sources. 3D printing and others better recycle resources. The areal efficiency of food generation is likely to see exponential advances as we stop relying on growing animals and plants. Humans could exist in the original body, artificial bodies, robot(or hybrid) bodies and even just in virtual worlds. New types of bodies and worlds would fundamentally alter the profile of the resources required.
Now that an economy doesn't exist, what is prosperity?
We'll end up spreading like immortal locusts and not quite sure (yet!) how to stop someone from creating billions of replicas of himself for a nefarious purpose - you can't have progress without crime. Maybe we'll just have to ascend, w/e that ends up meaning in practice.
What's certain is that humans must always want something and that enables us to evolve but will also create problems so any vision for a future society needs to include those too. Unless we fundamentally alter what a human is, the most we can do is to mitigate unethical tendencies. We can't create Utopia and if we could, maybe we shouldn't.
PS: You copy/paste the deffinition of Scientology at the end of your comment, maybe we should leave religion out of this or it becomes comedy.